Unisa Under Administration - What This Means For Students And The University



The University of South Africa (Unisa) has been in hot water throughout recent months, leading the Minister of Higher Education to weigh in and place the institution under administration. Unisa has since responded to the Minister's decision. 



The University of South Africa (Unisa) has been under intense scrutiny over the past few months, as allegations and confirmations of fraud and corruption surfaced. 

The institution's reputation continues to take a hit, as Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, announced his decision to place the institution under administration.

The Minister's Decision

The Minister's decision comes after an intense investigation into the university's finances lead to a few scandalous discoveries, most notably centered around the Vice Chancellor, Puleng LenkaBula. 

In a statement released on 7 August 2023, the Department of Higher Education and Training said:

Minister Nzimande intends to exercise his powers in terms of Section 49B of the Higher Education Act, 101 of 1997, which empowers him to appoint and administrator. In terms of Section 49E of the Higher Education Act, the Council of UNISA will be dissolved upon the appointment of an administrator. 

The statement continues, adding, "Minister Nzimande is satisfied that the Independent Assessor’s report reveals financial and other maladministration of a serious nature which affects the effective functioning of UNISA."

Nzimande had previously (before making this decision) criticised Unisa's failings, but stated that there is a need to to act swiftly amidst this maladministration crisis, to prevent irreparable damage to the institution's standing and reputation. 

The Minister said:

This institution really runs the risk of losing reputation and even actually going down, so I'm very determined that we act very soon to take the necessary decision on what needs to happen to address these challenges, so that Unisa can have another 150 years. 

"The Report reveals that the appointment of an administrator is in the best interest of UNISA and of higher education in an open and democratic society."

The Investigation Into Unisa, Explained

Unisa was recommended to be placed under administration earlier this year, when findings of the report first surfaced

In the report, which was compiled by Independent Assessor Professor Thabo Mosia (appointed by the Minister), detailed how millions of Rands were allegedly misused under the watch of both the university’s council and its management. According to Mosia, the South African public university has been plagued by governance issues since 2016.

One of the most notable aspects of Mosia's 308-page report, was the allocation of student funds to renovating the Vice Chancellor's home.

The report also raised concern regarding governance, performance and financial management, as well as staff intimidation, and the leaking of confidential reports.

Unisa's Vice Chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula and Unisa's Council members have denied certain facts of this probe, with the independent assessor saying the impression was given that both parties were hoping the matter would "simply disappear." 

I have observed a pattern of denial and ignorance from the Unisa council and management, even in situations where indefensible facts were presented to them. The denial of the persisting problems only serves to continue to ruin the good name and reputation of the university.

Ahmed Essop, Consultant and Research Associate at the Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies at the University of Johannesburg, says that the Minister is left with no other choice but to place Unisa under administration, in light of the Independent Assessor's report and findings.

Unisa has been going through turmoil, this financial maladministration, the governance of the institution has been poor in terms of oversight by the Council, there's evidence that Council may have interfered in decision-making in academic matters (which is the prerogative of Senate), and a range of other issues - particularly the poor service provided to students.

Nzimande has harshly criticised those that use Unisa for corrupt and unethical means, saying that the only aim of the university is for learning and teaching.

What Does Unisa Being Placed Under Administration Mean For The University And Students? 

Essop went on to explain that Minister Nzimande has two options when it comes to placing the university under administration: 

  1. Nzimande can choose to dissolve Unisa's Council but keep the university's Management in place, or
  2. Nzimande can choose to dissolve the Council and suspend the Management.

Option one would mean that the Administrator would be appointed in place of the Council. Option two would entail that the Administrator take on a dual role of decision-maker as Council, and of managing the institution. 

Essop that universities typically have a range of problems, and appointing an administrator would be to ensure that interventions are put in place to improve and/or solve some of these problems.

For Unisa's future regarding enrollments, Essop says that placing the institution under administration should not affect Unisa's credibility; the only way for that to happen was if the problems were ignored and nothing was done. 

The Minister has afforded the Unisa Council an opportunity to make written representations to him within 7 days of the receipt of his letter. They hope that students will not be affected as they can login to their MyUnisa accounts in the same way as normal.

Unisa's Response to the Minister's Letter 

Unisa has acknowledged receipt of Nzimande's letter and is in the process of responding to the Minister's communication, and previously acknowledged the existence of serious governance and operational issues within its institution. 

In a statement released by the university on 8 August 2023, Unisa said:

The University of South Africa acknowledges receipt of a letter from the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr B Nzimande expressing his intention to put it (Unisa) under administration. We wish to indicate that the university and its council are in the process of responding to the Minister. 

The statement concludes with, "As this process unfolds, we remain committed to keeping you informed. Further updates will be provided in due course. Your ongoing support is greatly appreciated."

In response to the release of the Report of the Independent Assessor into the affairs of Unisa by Higher Minister Blade Nzimande, the university's council has expressed its commitment to addressing these challenges while assuring stakeholders that improvements have been made.

The institution's Vice Chancellor has been adamant that she will not step down in light of the report's findings and the backlash received. 

In an interview, the Vice-Chancellor responded to the investigation report and the calls for her resignation. She attributed some of the criticism to misogynistic attacks on women in leadership roles. 

She defended her actions and efforts to hold all university stakeholders accountable for their responsibilities. However, she acknowledged the challenges and expressed disappointment with the report's alleged lack of impartiality.

I am quite disappointed with the report, first and foremost. Not because it has made findings against me or against the university. I think the so-called independent ministerial report is not as independent as it claims to be.

Regarding claims of weakened professorships, Prof LenkaBula strongly refuted the notion that Unisa has compromised its academic standards. She asserted that the university maintains stringent criteria for appointing professors and is committed to ensuring academic excellence.

Mametlwe Sebei, who is a lecturer at the university went on to say that although the allegations contained in the report are long-standing challenges, it failed to acknowledge existing improvements at the institution which are reflective of its current state.

The university’s lecturer further stated that Unisa’s financial viability is strong, and its quality assurance systems have been endorsed by both local and international authorities.

The governance and operational challenges faced by Unisa are significant, but the university maintains that it is far from collapsing or descending into chaos.

In the meantime, Unisa's management is urging staff members and students to continue with their job responsibilities and studies as usual, as per its statement.

The university emphasises the importance of individual and collective commitment to ensure the smooth continuation of academic activities, including teaching, research, innovation, and student support.

Students Suffer Significantly at the Hands of Tertiary Institution Corruption

The revelations made in the report has undoubtedly caused frustration and anger amongst many.

Unisa, like many other tertiary institutions in South Africa, continuously and notoriously have issues related to students and financial aid, alongside the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Students have been battling the same challenges related to funding from their universities for years, which has often resulted in protest action.

To discover that hundreds of Rands are being allocated for things like room decor, must feel like a slap in the face, considering how many students are unable to access tertiary education and those who are able to, struggle to secure decent student accommodation, amongst other prevalent issues. 

LenkaBula also highlighted efforts to improve the student experience, particularly addressing complaints about delayed results and registration issues. She emphasised the importance of academic support and technological advancements to enhance the university's overall performance.

Former President and Unisa Vice Chancellor, Thabo Mbeki, also joined the conversation, stating that the institution should produce academics that will give thought to current challenges, not only on the African continent, but globally. 

The Need for Unisa To Be Saved

The University of South Africa (Unisa) enrolls a third of South Africa's students, and provides a means of studying beneficial for those who cannot study full-time. 

Essop says:

If you've left school, if you're working, if you want to upgrade your qualifications for professional and other reasons - Unisa is the obvious place to go to. It's played that role historically, and it should continue to do so [as] it is particularly well-suited to meet the challenges going forward, given the development [of] technology, the role of online learning, etc. 

"In one sense, Unisa should be at the forefront, playing a leading role in online teaching and learning; and unfortunately, it has not been able to do so. It has lost its preeminence as a distance education institution."

Suggested Article:

Unisa VC responds to scathing report

South Africa's largest university has been under the spotlight during the last few months and not for its academic achievements. A scathing report made damning allegations against members of the university's executive prompting a response from the institutions vice-chancellor. 




Google News

Advertisement i

Advertisement m