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Nzimande lashes Damelin, CityVarsity, Intec and Lyceum for ‘worst sin’ committed by an education institution

Nzimande lashes Damelin, CityVarsity, Intec and Lyceum for ‘worst sin’ committed by an education institution
The Randburg Damelin campus owned by Educor on 26 March 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Educor colleges scored students on exam papers that were never even marked. The group inflated student numbers. And lost accreditation for numerous courses. These are just some among a litany of ethical and criminal breaches. The situation is terrible, but not insurmountable, as ADvTECH has put up its hand in support of some students.

Educor — the owner of Damelin, CityVarsity, Intec and Lyceum College — has been lambasted by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande over its failure to submit audited financial statements despite being afforded every opportunity and “extension after extension” to get its house in order. Now, it’s been given until October to appeal its deregistration.

Nzimande’s media briefing on Tuesday was in response to a notice published in the Government Gazette on Friday, in which the education department announced the deregistration of Damelin, CityVarsity, Lyceum and Icesa for failing to submit their legally required 2020 and 2021 annual financial certificates and annual reports.

These documents are expected to reveal details including student numbers and courses, the institution’s financial affairs and staffing levels.

Nzimande told journalists that after a large-scale probe into Educor colleges, serious issues had been brought to his attention.

Besides non-compliance for the two financial years and failure to obtain tax clearance to prove its financial viability, he accused Educor of unethical conduct, dysfunctional practices, bribery and other elements of corruption.

Educor didn’t pay staff salaries or resolve numerous student complaints, and was even found to be dishonest about exam markings and student numbers.

‘You cannot lie’ 

Nzimande said what he found particularly egregious was that students were given marks based on exam papers that had never been marked.

“That’s the worst sin that can be committed by an education institution, whether public or private — you cannot just lie and give students marks based on scripts that were never marked, or as if there was an exam that was written, for that matter.”

In addition to this, the Higher Education Quality Committee had withdrawn the accreditation of some programmes for CityVarsity, Damelin and Lyceum.

It also misrepresented student numbers, claiming to have 50,000 students on its books, but based on its latest annual report, Nzimande said CityVarsity had 540 students, Damelin had 4,012, Icesa City Campus had 145 and Lyceum College had 8,399.

“In total, this was 13,096, not the 50,000 they were claiming. Why are they claiming higher numbers, which they do not have?” he asked.

“Are they trying to project that they are having lots of students and hiding the fact that their student numbers have been rapidly declining?”

Nzimande said the directorate dealing with private education had received complaints about Educor for years, about the poor quality of teaching and learning; lack of proper administrative support; poorly qualified staff; corruption and bribery; a lack of response to requests for refunds; lack of professionalism; exploitation of poor students and nonpayment and underpayment of staff salaries.

Nothing good to say

On the Hellopeter complaints website, Educor has 44 five-star complaints and zero positive reviews.

The latest complaint, by “Adriaan H”, said he had done work for them but had to send numerous letters of demand before being paid in a piecemeal fashion.

“I have never come across such a micromanaged, cheap organisation in my life. Having studied at City Varsity many years back and been a full-time employee at one stage, the sharp decline that Educor has managed to inflict upon this once thriving business and culture is devastating.

“Not to be able to honour R675? Poor. How is this business still operating?  How is anybody trusting them? I’ve only heard horror stories of Damelin and City Varsity.”

Daisy M writes that it’s been more than a year since she requested a refund.

“I call and send emails but [neither] Cleavon nor Dimakatso give me a valid answer. All they say on my emails is that they have escalated my query to the relevant department. They have been saying that for over a year now.  What I want is for them to communicate with me and advise on when I will get my money. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to study at Lyceum College.”

Marelize M says: “What a sad place to do work for! This company does not pay for services rendered! No answers, no explanation, no integrity. SO SAD THAT A PERSON HAS TO RESORT TO THESE PLATFORMS TO GET ANY ASSISTANCE. Pay your dues and do right by your students. I do not recommend Educor, Intec, Damelin etc for any studies or job opportunities. Stay away!”

Nzimande explained that the complaints extend to Educor’s other brands, Intec College and Damelin Correspondence College, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Quality Council of Trades and Occupations, and the Sector Education and Training Authorities-accredited programmes — neither of which have been able to restore stability with the Educor institutions.

The Central Technical College has been issued with a notice of intent to cancel registration after the exam centre’s staff members failed to turn up for invigilation.

Students were also affected by the sudden closures of CityVarsity in Braamfontein after staff stopped working due to non-payment of salaries, and the closure of Damelin sites in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and East London after they fell into municipal and rental arrears. Lyceum College’s site was also closed due to an eviction order by the landlord.

On 8 January 2024, the department wrote to the four Educor institutions and asked them to respond to a list of corruption allegations. To date, they have not responded.

Way forward for students

Nzimande said his department was worried about the fate of students.

Educor will be given time to phase out pipeline students and it will have to reimburse students where necessary.

Nzimande said the conditions and obligations imposed on Educor meant the immediate cancellation of the registration of CityVarsity, which may not enrol new students in any year of the programme.

Within two weeks, CityVarsity must phase out pipeline students and submit a “teach-out” plan, which must also include the number of learners in the pipeline and when their records will be uploaded to the national learner’s records database.

Students who did not complete the programme within the stipulated time frame will not be admitted after the 31 December 2023 cut-off period and will need to complete their programme at another institution.

“We don’t want to leave students stranded. It is incumbent upon Educor institutions to find alternative institutions for the students to complete their studies, either public or private… We are a very generous department; we are also willing to assist on that score in the identification of relevant institutions where students (are able) to complete,” said Nzimande.

Any institution that has been notified that its provisional registration has lapsed, or that its provisional registration has been cancelled, must:

  • Inform the students within 14 days to safeguard their interests.
  • Provide each enrolled student with a copy of their academic transcript.
  • Reimburse or compensate any enrolled student who has a legal claim on the institution.
  • Make adequate arrangements for affected students to complete their programmes at a comparable public or private institution.
  • Cease operating before or at the end of the academic year.
  • Ensure that no new students are enrolled after the date specified by the registrar.

The minister has urged affected staff to seek the assistance of the Labour Court and the CCMA.

“Under these circumstances, and with the information at our disposal, it would be unconscionable to maintain the registration status of these four private institutions and allow ourselves to become complicit in gross governance and compliance failures.”

Ready to assist

On Monday night, ADvTECH’s recently retired CEO, Roy Douglas, said on 702 that the private education group empathised with both students and staff at the affected institutions.

Douglas told Daily Maverick on Tuesday that the Independent Institute of Education (IIE – the higher education division of ADvTECH) was ready to assist the students.

“Our commitment is not only to our own students but also to the sustainability, growth and development of higher education in South Africa as a whole.

“We are therefore preparing to assist and support as many impacted students as possible.”

While specific details and logistics still need to be confirmed, he said that when it came to students who opted to transfer to one of the IIE campuses, the institute would assess modules that the student had already completed against the programme that the student was transferring to and award academic credits accordingly.

“Given the plight of these students, we will review each student’s financial circumstances holistically. Fee credits are granted for module credits, ie the total programme fee is reduced by the cost of the module/s that the students are granted academic credit for.

“Overall, any assistance that ADvTECH or the IIE provide during this process will be focused on doing whatever we can to support these students in obtaining a qualification.”

Students can email [email protected] with queries.

Still waiting

Meanwhile, Educor employees say they are still waiting for a management briefing in light of the deregistration. Some remain upbeat about the colleges’ prospects.

In February, when Daily Maverick first reported on the education department’s investigation into Educor, the group’s management ignored questions. Employees who were contacted refused to speak out for fear of reprisals.

After Tuesday’s media briefing, Daily Maverick’s Msindisi Fengu visited the Damelin and Lyceum colleges in Randburg.

He managed to speak to three employees who said they knew of the deregistration process, but were not concerned.

“We are getting our salaries,” one employee insisted.

Another employee indicated that students did not have representation on campus and that lectures were continuing. “We have no problems here,” she said.

A third staff member said they were waiting for management to update them on the next steps.

Security officers escorted Fengu from the premises.

Managers refused to engage with Daily Maverick and referred us to Educor’s headquarters in Pinetown, KZN.

One former employee, who had held a senior position at the company, said he had received two calls from concerned parents on Tuesday morning.

“They wanted to know what’s going on. I said I cannot comment. I also received two WhatsApps from Lyceum staff who are still in the office… they said head office declined to communicate with them.”

The door to CityVarsity in Braamfontein was chained and padlocked. There was a note on the door that said: “Important temporary closure: We regret to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, the campus will be temporarily closed.” DM

Surina Baijnath, an executive personal assistant at Educor, failed to respond to Daily Maverick queries. This story will be updated if she does.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Whether state or private education you get nothing like what you pay for! When will we have education worth having in SA? Certainly not under the current govt watch.

    • Jeff Robinson says:

      Sadly like most, you seem to conceive of education as restricted to what happens in formal institutions whether state or private. Properly conceived as a lifelong process of self-actualisation, education can and does happen everywhere. The internet and computer technologies in general have, or perhaps should have, rendered redundant such sham institutions as highlighted in this article. The problem in our country is our obsession with qualifications which again and again are shown to be inadequate as indicators of real competence or capacity for praxis, i.e. thinking in action. I retired earlier than necessary from one of our ‘leading’ universities because I simply could no longer participate in the educational fraud that was becoming the status quo, especially in ‘disciplines’ in the ‘humanities’ where genuine critical thinking is almost nowhere to be found.

  • Alexis Kriel says:

    A ghastly end to the name of Damelin College that my late father Isaac Kriel created – once an exemplary institution that saved so many from the ravages of bad public education and spoke up for equal education during the apartheid era. My family has had no connection with the institution, since my father’s passing in 1988, when his shares were sold to the governing body and the emphasis of the organisation was directed to the correspondence college and away from the day school. I feel sorry for the students.

  • Alexis Kriel says:

    A ghastly end to the name of Damelin College that my late father Isaac Kriel created – once an exemplary institution that saved so many from the ravages of bad public education and spoke up for equal education during the apartheid era. My family has had no connection with the institution, since my father’s passing in 1988, when his shares were sold to the governing body and the emphasis of the organisation was directed to the correspondence college and away from the day school. I feel sorry for the students.

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    ….and here’s me thinking nzimande was doing a crit of his own department of eddikation?

  • jason du toit says:

    i worked at damelin briefly about 8 years ago. i saw enough in 3 months for me to hot-tail it out of there. my biggest pain was the students… they are ultimately the ones who were let down by such a disfunctional institution, that promised so much yet delivered so little.

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    Beware of not being overly outraged minister. We remember your serious failings as well.

  • Brett Redelinghuys says:

    Sad to read and hope the students and staff can be protected in some way.
    My only question is…
    Can the same assessment of competency be applied to “State” institutions? I seem to remember a small matter of Minister trying to put UNISA into administration, of Murder at Rhodes, and a few others with financial irregularities…
    Are they measured in the same light as “private” institutions? Me thinks not…

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