Unisa To Make Changes As Issues In Governance Arise

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A recent report by the Independent Assesor into Unisa revealing mismanagement and maladministration, has put the university's reputation in jeopardy. The university is set to make changes amidst the issues arising in its governance.

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In 2021, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande appointed a task team (MTT) to conduct an independent review on the purpose and strategic mandate of the University of South Africa (Unisa) within the South African context. 

The final report was submitted by the MTT on 30 August 2021 and concluded that the Council of Unisa is the "root cause of the problems at the university based on a number of observations". 

The MTT found that the university's enrolment targets were unrealistic and irresponsible because of the lack of Unisa's capacity. The report found that Unisa admits more students than it can support and said that this prioritizes access over success. 

The MTT found that the institution is disproportionately affected by global and national drivers that are common to all higher education institutions. As a result, the MTT is of the view that all aspects of higher education in the country should be revisited and policies should be re-examined. The report recommended that a National Commmission on Higher Education should address this. 

The report found that Unisa's ICT infrastructure is outdated and has become less fit for purpose over the past years. The MTT says that the Council has failed to deliver on its responsibilities to ensure that the infrastructure necessary for education delivery is up to date and secure. 

The MTT says the failure to ensure modern and secure ICT infrastructure has damaged the reputation of Unisa's academic standing and administrative competence. 

The report states that Unisa has issues in many of the key support systems, such as in Supply Chain Management, Human Resource Management, Compliance and Finance functions. 

The MTT recommended that the Council should dissolve and an Administrator should be appointed. 

The Council of Unisa submitted a response in which it welcomed a number of conclusions and recommendations from this report, such as the call for national commission on higher education and the business model and strategic positioning of the institution. 

The Council has also stated it supported the recommendation that the Florida Campus should not be a new stand-alone Science and Technology institution. 

The Council admitted that targets were not managed to the requisite levels as there was a greater need than space available during 2018 and 2020. They argued that Unisa needs to be funded appropriately per FTE or be allowed to carry less than it currently does. 

The university's Council also admitted that the ICT infrastructure was no longer fit for purpose and was falling short of addressing the needs of students and academic staff.

However, the Council indicated that it had adopted a multi-component Open Distance e-Learning ICT strategy which is made up of a number of flagship projects supported by the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) project. This is meant to replace the legacy ICT infrastructure which other business applications are hosted on. 

According to the report by the Council, a new strategic plan as well as processes to review the delegations of authority framework to ensure that Management is properly empowered to implement strategic objectives are underway. 

In June 2022, Minister Nzimande met with the Council to discuss the MTT report and the way forward and amongst the continuing allegations and mismanagement received by the Minister and the Department, an Independent Assessor was appointed in September 2022. 

The Independent Assessor's report dealt with functioning and efficacy of the University's governance and management structures. It also looked into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement against the Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, Puleng LenkaBula. 

The report recommended that the Minister considers appointing an Administrator as it found financial or other maladministration of a serious nature or a serious undermining of the effective functioning of the University. 

Nzimande received a response from the Council on 12 June 2023 and he will consider this response and decide on the appropriate action to take based on the Higher Education Act and taking into consideration the interests of Unisa. 

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