Opinionista Sbonelo Radebe 6 February 2019

UKZN: The centre is not holding

The University of KwaZulu-Natal joined all other universities recently in shutting down its campuses. As in most years, students protest for several reasons about the frustrations they face at the beginning of the year. If anything, this reveals how the UKZN is in a process of collapsing. It has come to be disorganised; basically, the centre is not holding. It might be because of the departure its Vice-Chancellor, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld at the end of 2018.

Students in 2019 are again frustrated over registration issues with many who are in debt to the university expected to pay 50% of the fees they owe the previous year, including those who have been rejected by the poorly administrated NSFAS. The memorandum, as drafted by the management is not new; the issues contained in it are old issues. However, they have received little or no attention at all from those who are at the helm of management, especially the Executive Management Committee.

It is difficult for those outside of UKZN to really understand the depth of the crisis. The university is a shadow of itself, the obsession with academic rankings has cost us many good academics who have left because of too much work on slave wages. Millions are spent on investigations which are never completed and little attention is given to teaching and learning. If anything, this is proof of why the aspiring premier university of African scholarship needs intervention.

So, what are the issues at UKZN:

  1. The first problem is that there is a lack of leadership; we now know from the Chair of the Council, Reverend Vukile Mehana, that UKZN is rotten from the head. I was very impressed to see the Vice-Chancellor of UCT, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, interacting with students, conversing with them and even taking pictures with them. This is a sign of a university leader who sees the need for building relations with students. Being open, transparent and accountable would not be a challenge for her. In UKZN that has never happened with our elitist management since the departure of Professor Makgoba.
  2. On residences, it emerged in 2018 that the Department of Student Residence Affairs has been looting the university; it is alleged that there were more than 200 rooms which were bogus, and students paid individuals rather than the university. Furthermore, maintenance is never a priority with them. Cockroaches in residences have become permanent citizens, filthy bathrooms, dirty walls, dysfunctional sanitation systems are among the challenges. To compensate for the monies lost through their own corruption they have decided to increase residence fees by 7%.
  3. On teaching and learning, UKZN operates through contracted staff who are without proper teaching experience and are given too much work at a pay rate of R4,000 a month. Many lecturers are leaving the university because of lack of better pay. Postgraduate students spend almost three years at Master’s level without proper supervision because there is a shortage of academic staff and those who are available are too busy to supervise students.
  4. There are academics who believe that they are being sidelined by other non-South African academics who reserve jobs for their friends, family and partners pushing out South Africans. Some even complain that they receive poor salaries compared to them although they are all employed on contracts.
  5. The university is becoming broke. After suspending administrative staff in 2018 across all campuses, they are now forced to pay salaries for the suspended and those who are appointed on contracts to fill in the gap. Currently, there is KPMG, Mi7 and another security company, an investigation company all pocketing millions from the university without any clear result of the mandate of their assignment.
  6. Almost 40 % of university management is acting in those positions and this has continued for some time. This disrupts decision making.

I am highlighting these issues because I believe they are central to a better functioning institution. What is clear at UKZN is its obsession with world rankings on research outputs. This obsession has collapsed teaching and learning which have been replaced with a factory of academic certificates. Because academics are overworked they themselves have become academic careerists obsessed with collecting as many certificates as they can just to get better pay.

The idea of being “The Premier University of African scholarship” is just a vulgarity in the face of Africa, because there is no longer a scholarship. DM

Sbonelo Radebe is a Master’s Student in Politics at the UKZN Pietermaritzburg Campus and a research intern at the Mzala Nxumalo Centre for the Study of South African Society.

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Want to watch Richard Poplak’s audition for SA’s Got Talent?

Who doesn’t? Alas, it was removed by the host site for prolific swearing*... Now that we’ve got your attention, we thought we’d take the opportunity to talk to you about the small matter of book burning and freedom of speech.

Since its release, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, has sparked numerous fascist-like behavior from certain members of the public (and the State). There have been planned book burnings, disrupted launches and Ace Magashule has openly called him a liar. And just to say thanks, a R10m defamation suit has been lodged against the author.

Pieter-Louis Myburgh is our latest Scorpio Investigative journalist recruit and we’re not going to let him and his crucial book be silenced. When the Cape Town launch was postponed, Maverick Insider stepped in and relocated it to a secure location so that Pieter-Louis’ revelations could be heard by the public. If we’ve learnt one thing over the past ten years it is this: when anyone tries to infringe on our constitutional rights, we have to fight back. Every day, our journalists are uncovering more details and evidence of State Capture and its various reincarnations. The rot is deep and the threats, like this recent one to freedom of speech, are real. You can support the cause by becoming an Insider and help free the speech that can make a difference.

*No video of Richard Poplak auditioning for SA’s Got Talent actually exists. Unless it does and we don’t know about it please send it through.


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