University springboard has lost its bounce

Andrew Louw, MPL

DA Northern Cape: Leader

The Democratic Alliance welcomes the idea of a university in the Northern Cape. We are nonetheless deeply concerned that the very springboard for such a tertiary institution, in the form of the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE), has lost its bounce. This said, we would like the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, to pronounce himself on the managerial, financial and administrative issues currently hampering progress at the institution, during his visit to the city on Thursday (15 March 2012).

It is a known fact that the Northern Cape needs a reputable tertiary institution. It is also well known that the President announced that money would be allocated towards establishing our university. This, however, is where the debate ended. Seemingly there seems to be a lack of understanding as to just how such an institution comes about. A university is not merely vested in a building. Instead, it is a complex institution entailing managerial, administrative, financial and academic processes, which brings me to my next point, namely that there can be no denying that NIHE is currently in a state of chaos.

Leadership, staff members and students are all unhappy. Management issues pertaining to the head of the institute and the board appear to be at the centre of the dilemma, and are having a detrimental effect on financial, administrative and academic processes. The appointment of academic staff, like in all education endeavors, should not be political. However, the current crisis around Professor Summers, seems to be quite a political thorn.

Allegations of fraud and non-compliance of supply chain management (SCM) processes are serious and cannot simply be left unattended. At the same time, the culture of learning and teaching in the province is not conducive and could stifle our march towards a university in the province. This said, the academic crisis, entailing a shortage of learning material, a lack of lecturers and no student cards, requires urgent attention, as does the issue of safety and poor living conditions in residences. Late bursary payments also cannot be tolerated and an amicable solution to the issue of language preferences for the medium of education must be found.

Then there is the matter of the Northern Cape’s grade 12’s, only 20% of whom managed to achieve a university entrance. We still have a long way to go towards developing students who could fill such an academic institution and basic education in the Northern Cape needs to be relooked at.

All these issues need level headed thinking in order to be properly dealt with before the Northern Cape can embark on establishing a fully fledged university in the province. The province should guard against building an educational mansion on a crumbling foundation.

The DA calls on Dr Nzimande to institute an urgent intervention into the NIHE. Perhaps initiating a forensic audit into the finances of the institution would be a good place to start.

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