In November 2023, a drawn-out legal battle came to an end which ultimately forced Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to withdraw his decision to place the country's largest university under administration.
The University of South Africa (Unisa) was officially placed under administration in November. However, after a legal back and forth between the university and the Higher Education Minister, the minister was forced to withdraw his decision.
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) was recently asked for more information regarding the challenges which compelled the minister to appoint an administrator. The challenges which led the minister to place the institution under administration are based on two comprehensive reports, the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) Strategic Review Report of 2021 and the Independent Assessor's Report of 2022.
Some key issues highlighted include the university's failure to adapt to changes in the student body, with unrealistic and irresponsible enrollment targets.
Additionally, Unisa was criticised for a lack of strategic guidance for a modern Open Distance e-learning (OdeL) institution and the failure to address weaknesses hindering strategic priorities.
The reports point out various problems within the university, including dysfunctional and outdated ICT infrastructure, collapsed basic assurance services affecting governance, ineffective risk management processes, and a pervasive culture of non-compliance and corruption.
The institution was also accused of neglecting consequence management and failing to establish an enabling and ethical culture.
Specifically, the Office of the Registrar was deemed dysfunctional, particularly in student administration, leading to frustration among students. The lack of protection of student information has allowed fraudulent tutors to exploit students.
The university's governance is criticised for its outdated statutes, policies, and non-adherence to governance instruments. The Council is implicated in condoning irregular financial decisions, such as selective salary adjustments and the laptop scheme, which have had significant consequences for Unisa.
It is suggested that the reports highlight a long-standing issue of Council interference in management matters, as it reduced the delegation of authority (DoA) and encroached on areas traditionally managed by the university's administration.
The appointment of an administrator was aimed at addressing these challenges and improving the institution's credibility.