Credibility of South Africa’s Tertiary Institutions Under Fire

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It is no secret that several high-ranking South African officials have received questionable qualifications from some of the country’s most prestigious institutions. Following the discovery of yet another official with potentially illegal credentials, the credibility of our tertiary institutions is now in question. 


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Earlier this week, News24 reports began circulating that Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, may have obtained his qualifications illegally. In this report, Mabuyane was implicated in fraudulent admission to the University of Fort Hare (UFH) for a Master’s Degree and a PhD in Public Administration, despite only having a BCom Degree.

Mabuyane allegedly obtained his fake qualifications with the assistance of Edwin Ijeoma, a former UFH professor.

This is not the first time Fort Hare has been involved in such a scandal. Last year, the University was investigated over claims that government officials were admitted and accepted into postgraduate programmes without possessing undergraduate degrees.

In 2015, the Democratic Alliance (DA) revealed that roughly 640 public sector officials had falsified their qualifications.

What Allows Fraud To Occur?

Professor Ahmed Bawa from the University of Johannesburg Business School spoke to Newzroom Afrika on Tuesday morning and identified possible problem areas that allow for cases like these to go unnoticed.

Bawa reveals that a large percentage of our tertiary institutions are lacking the presence of proper governance systems and a sense of stability. 

Arguably the most prominent issue Bawa noted is that our universities have no continuity of management. Tasks regularly change hands as new members come in and out of these institutions, making it easier for instances of fraud and corruption to slip through the cracks.

It would be more beneficial to have officials who are experienced in managerial roles, rather than those who have shifted from portfolio to portfolio. Experience plays a vital role in how the university is managed and how affairs are handled, and management systems have a responsibility to prevent this from happening.

Possible Interventions That Can Be Implemented

Bawa believes that serious intervention is needed from the Council on Higher Education (CHE). Frequent audits need to take place to ensure that the country’s qualifications are safe and legitimate. Without proper measures in place, we will only see the number of fraudulent qualifications increase in the coming years.

In the management system, there needs to be a segregation of duties. This way, when corruption occurs it is likely to involve people independently, making it easier to identify guilty parties.

The CHE needs to work with councils and universities to ensure that these examinations and graduation systems are appropriately managed through the carrying out of regular institutional audits.

When corruption at an institution is discovered, the state, the police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) need to cooperate, rather than leave the university to deal with it on their own. This will see that accused parties are dealt with through criminal proceedings.

Furthermore, action needs to be taken against the staff members and relevant parties implicated in the crime. Qualifications should be withdrawn and withheld until investigations have concluded.

There should be no hesitation on the university’s part when called to act on the suspecting individuals and take a harsh stand. 

Bawa concludes that while this is not a common occurrence, affected institutions urgently need to establish systems to prevent this from happening in the future. The CHE needs to step in and request a full audit of the examination processes at all 26 universities.

The University of the Free State, University of Zululand and the University of Johannesburg are other institutions that have previously been implicated in fake qualification scandals.

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