Experts

Government may have “captured” our universities

As South Africans, we hear a lot about this being captured, them being captured, but do we ever think about a “captured” university? While most of us haven’t, these legal experts and academics are attempting to ring the alarm bells.

With the 2016 Higher Education Amendment Act becoming mostly operational last week, some are worried about the influential power the act gives to the government.

According to BusinessTech, the act allows the minister of higher education to determine transformation goals for the sector, together with oversight mechanisms to ensure that they are achieved.

These mechanisms include the “articulation and recognition” of prior learning frameworks across education, as well as the power to amend the criteria for recognition as a university or college.

Legalbrief’s Pam Saxby says the changes give the minister too much power.

“Less widely reported in the media are provisions in the new statute,” said Saxby.

“(These) strengthen the minister’s powers to intervene when a tertiary institution has been found to be ‘underperforming’; and facilitating ‘stricter oversight’ of government subsidy spending.”

Possibly the most alarming factor of all this, the minster is now empowered to withhold funding in cases where he or she deems necessary.

DA MP Belinda Bozzoli spoke about the bill last year, she slated several clauses in the act, especially those that allowed the minister to over-interfere in University business.

“Today, with the failure of existing methods of fixing the dysfunctional universities, the minister seeks to expand his powers,”

“The new bill has a clause which means that he will now only need to have ‘reason to believe’ – rather than concrete proof – that intervention is necessary. It will become easier to suspend university independence, and more difficult to challenge such a decision in court.

“The bill also proposes to give the minister new powers to issue directives to the [university] council for up to five years after the administrator leaves. This extends the period of suspension of university autonomy from two years to seven. We oppose this clause.”

With cabinet reshuffle rumours growing by the day, the most likely minister to be axed is Higher Education’s Blade Nzimande. If he goes, it’s believed that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma may replace him. We will leave you with that as food for thought…

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