Vaal Central University Of Technology


Vaal Central University Of Technology, Dr Diane Parker, Acting Deputy Director-General: University Education, gave a brief overview of the presentation and referred to the problems with governance experienced by these two institutions, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and the Central University of Technology (CUT).  She explained that, although there were governance difficulties at these universities, these were not necessarily in crisis regarding the academic quality provided to students and that both had relatively strong academic programmes. Dr Parker then explained that the results for each university would be presented separately.

Dr Parker addressed the reason for the appointment of an independent assessor in this institution. She referred to the historical difficulties within this institution, which had led to various conflicts within the Council of the VUT. These conflicts were exacerbated by the existence of various “factions” within the Council and management. She also referred to the fact that an independent assessor had previously been appointed, but that some of the core difficulties within VUT had not been resolved (the previous Vice Chancellor of VUT had been removed). She also stated that there were allegations of race based appointments with the result that white candidates were employed to the exclusion of black ones (these allegations were not always supported by facts). She also referred to the tension between the Vice-Chancellor (VC) and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Finance (DVC: Finance), which had put the institution into a state of paralysis, as well as the suspension of the DVC: Finance. Advocate Muzi Shikhakhane was appointed as an independent assessor on 10 February 2012. His key findings were:

⚫the Council of VUT failed and was unable to provide strategic leadership (this assessment did not refer to any particular members, as there were some very good members, but rather the Council as a collective);

⚫the departure of the previous VC must be addressed as this still haunted the institution (there were previous allegiances with the VC and there were bitter feelings regarding the way he was treated and removed);

⚫the current VC had made significant improvements to VUT;

⚫DVC: Finance undermined the role and authority of the VC;

⚫The current statute of VUT must be replaced in order to ensure that the Council was properly constituted to lead a university;

⚫the current Council’s composition must be addressed as vested interests and political agendas had emerged;

⚫there was a mismanagement of student residences; and

⚫barring these problems, VUT was a stable institution.

The recommendations of the independent assessor were:

⚫Dissolve the current council and its committees, but retain the current VC;

⚫Appoint an administrator to perform the functions of the Council until a new Council was constituted;

⚫There should be a new statute of VUT to address the shortcomings in governance;

⚫The Council’s decision not to extend the current VC’s contract for a full five year time (the contract was renewed for two years) must be reviewed;

⚫There must be a special forensic audit into procurement and management of student residences as it appeared that there was corruption;

⚫A mechanism must be found to resolve the tension between the VC and the DVC: Finance;

⚫Audit and finance committees must be reconstituted based on skills and integrity;

⚫A risk management strategy must be developed and implemented;

⚫VUT should build its own student residences;

⚫VUT should increase infrastructural capacity of its campuses to adequately serve the numbers of students enrolled;

⚫All Council members must declare business and other interests (this was absolutely critical, Council members should also be trained to understand their governance role within the institution); and

⚫The current suspension of the DVC: Finance must be addressed and resolved. 

The Minister of Higher Education and Training then published the Independent Assessor’s Report in the Government Gazette, and a copy was provided to the Council. The Director-General met with the Council on 23 May 2012 to consider its views. The Minister was considering the findings of the assessor in conjunction with the responses from Council, and would make an announcement once he had considered all inputs and made his decision on the matter. It was important to note that no single response was provided from the Council of VUT, but a variety of individual responses. 

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) noted that it appeared to be a contradiction that the institution was stable when the governance was in shambles and queried how this could be reconciled. With regard to the historical difficulties of the institution, was this an indication that the individuals could not resolve their difficulties or that the dispute settlement mechanism had failed? Also, the VC had been appointed to uphold the interest of South Africans in the exercise of her duties, if the DVC:Finance was no longer interested in doing so, then why was he not relieved of his duties. 

Dr Parker responded that, despite the infighting within the institution, the institution had continued, particularly as a result of the strategic vision of the VC. She also stated that the dispute settlement mechanism was ineffectual. The VC had suspended the DVC:Finance but there was a difficulty with this at the Council level. In this regard, it was necessary that a hierarchy be clearly established and set out. 

Ms N Gina (ANC) queried the kind of support that was given to VUT. She also queried what the measures are that would be taken if individuals did not do as the VUT statute mandated. She also queried who suspended the DVC: Finance, and the reasons for this. 

Dr Parker responded that the question of support was a key concern in terms of public institutions and the autonomy that these should have, whilst still remaining accountable. She also stated that the DHET was looking at putting in place formal education programmes to train Councils and help them to understand their positions. 

Mr G Radebe (ANC) mentioned whether there should be a structure formed to deal with racial tension, as this would still exist after all the other difficulties had been dealt with. He also requested clarification as to the issue regarding the residences, as the students that were disadvantaged in this regard would not be able to perform well. 

Dr Parker responded that certain issues had been picked up regarding the residences; there were allegations of corruption, records had been poorly kept and there were various contradictions in these records.

The Chairperson then stated that it was a problem that the officials of the DHET were acting as proxies of the independent assessor, as it would have been best to hear of the findings of the assessor from the assessor himself. He said that, in future the assessor should be present to assist the Members in this regard. This would enable Members to proactively and robustly exercise their oversight functions. 

Dr Parker also mentioned that part of the historical difficulties of VUT included that it had been built for a capacity of approximately 10 000 students and there were currently approximately 24 000 enrolled students, which placed institutional pressure of the institution. The DHET was going to try to understand these difficulties and come up with corrective measures. 

Dr Parker stated that there was a strong science; engineering and technology focus at this i nstitution, which had a fairly robust curriculum. The Minister of Higher Education and Training had received an anonymous letter from concerned CUT staff making serious allegations of maladministration, corruption and human rights abuses. After queries from the DHET, the Council of CUT initiated an investigation by KPMG, which was later aborted and replaced by a second investigation by Advocate Jannie Lubbe SC. Both these investigations were prematurely terminated. The KPMG report was never made available to the Minister despite repeated requests. Advocate Lubbe found credibility in most of the allegations made. This Lubbe report, together with the non-availability of the KPMG Report, prompted the Minister to initiate and independent assessment of the problems at CUT. Prof Julian Smith, Vice-Rector: Community Interaction and Personnel, University of Stellenbosch, was appointed as an independent assessor on 12 February 2012. His key findings were:

⚫The Council of CUT had handled the anonymous letter inadequately;

⚫The Minister had been misled concerning the existence of the KPMG Report (the University denied receiving this, but there was evidence that it had);

⚫The whistle-blowing process might have been compromised;

⚫Council had shown poor adherence to good governance principles and fiduciary responsibility;

⚫General oversight of financial management was insufficient (between 2008 and 2012 there was a significant increase in expenditure on external consultants, legal fees, management services and overseas travel);

⚫The staff restructuring process took a heavy toll on staff confidence, loyalty and job security;

⚫The VC had been unable to follow through on the repositioning and reconfiguration of the University;

⚫There were claims of unbecoming conduct on the part of the DVC: Institutional Planning, Partnerships and Communication;

⚫There was a culture of fear at CUT;

⚫The Welkom campus did not get consistent and ongoing attention with regard to infrastructure development; and

⚫The proximity to the University of the Free State was not formally exploited.

The recommendations of the independent assessor were:

⚫Dissolve the current Council of CUT;

⚫Appoint an administrator to perform the functions of Council until a new Council was constituted;

⚫The VC should be placed on special leave (there were allegations of misconduct) pending the outcome of further forensic investigation;

⚫There should be an investigation of the alleged conduct of the DVC: Institutional Planning, Partnerships and Communication;

⚫The KPMG investigation should be reactivated and expanded to include the Welkom campus (this investigation should include a forensic audit);

⚫The current investigations by the VC should be placed on hold; and

⚫There should be a review of past and present labour relations matters.

The Minister of Higher Education and Training published the assessor’s report in the Government Gazette. The Director-General met with the Council of CUT on 28 May 2012 to consider its views. Council had submitted a formal response to the Minister. The Minister would consider the findings of the independent assessor together with the views of Council. The Minister would make an announcement once he had considered all inputs and made his decision on the matter.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) was concerned about the staff and the recommendation that investigations be put on hold. She also stated that the last she had heard of this matter was that Council had decided to take the Minister to court, and queried whether this was true. 

Mr C Moni (ANC) queried what the possibility of victimisation was in this instance. 

Dr Parker responded that the DHET was putting in place changes to the reporting regulations in order to deal with this. 

Dr Engela van Staden, Acting Chief Director: University Academic Planning and Management Support,  noted that some complaints were initiated through the public protector. 

The Chairperson was also concerned that the Members were only getting one side of the story and queried when the Members were going to get the formal responses from the Council. 

Dr Parker stated that these would be made available. 

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) queried why the Minister did not request the KPMG report from KPMG directly. 

Dr Parker responded that the report had been requested, but KPMG was unable to provide it because the report had been initiated by CUT and the Minister could only get it from CUT. 

The Chairperson then stated that Parliament should request KPMG’s report from KPMG. 

The meeting was adjourned.

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