Fort Hare council called to ensure good governance

Friday, June 23, 2023

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, has called on the Fort Hare University Council to ensure that management upholds the principles of good governance and takes immediate steps to correct and hold accountable any management members and administration for breach of policy.

“Our universities are given powers of self-governance by the Higher Education Act (1997), which designates powers to duly constituted councils held responsible for overseeing accountability of the daily administration of universities. The statutes regulating each university’s affairs are approved by the Minister and all universities through their councils are bound to account to government for how they carry out their mandates,” Nzimande said.

Nzimande was addressing media at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) in East London, Eastern Cape, on Friday following a meeting with the council of the university.

The follow-up meeting looked at all the issues that were previously raised by stakeholders during the Minister’s visit in January 2023.

The university was placed under administration in April this year following the dissolution and resignation of the council.

Nzimande reported that the mandate of the UFH Administrator was confined to the role, powers, functions and duties related to the governance of the institution for an initial period of 12 months, which was extended for a further six months, with the appointment of a second Administrator.

He said the close-out reports of the two Administrators, Professor Loyiso Nongxa and Nhlanganiso Dladla, were submitted on 29 June 2020 and 13 May 2021, respectively.

Having taken note of the findings and recommendations of the independent assessment, Nzimande said the first Administrator developed a Consolidated Turnaround and Performance Improvement Plan (CTPIP) for the university, which was structured around a number of priority project areas intended to respond to concerns diagnosed and was envisaged to require around three years to register a meaningful impact at the university.

“As part of the post-administration arrangements, as the Minister, in terms of section 49I (1) of the Higher Education Act, I issued a directive to the council, that the university must report to me biannually through the mid-term and annual report on the implementation of the CTPIP and other measures which arise from the findings of the Independent Assessor.

“I must indicate today that significant progress has been registered in this regard. Furthermore, the new strategic plan (2022-26) was approved by council in 2021, and sets out seven institutional goals,” Nzimande said.

While commending positive steps taken by the university management to address some of the issues raised in the assessor report, the Minister noted that many outstanding issues remain on the agenda, and new issues have since emerged.

Reporting on the outcomes of the meeting with the council, Nzimande said the meeting agreed that the university will continue to play its oversight role in the management of the university.

“We also agreed that Council must also assume a posture that embraces and promotes the principle of inclusive stakeholder cooperative governance, as this is the only sustainable pathway for Fort Hare's long-term stability and success.

"There is no basis for an authoritarian road to the salvation of Fort Hare. An inclusive stakeholder model must be the basis for a sustainable future… That principle lies at the core of the higher education system,” Nzimande said.

During his visit at the university in January, Nzimande reported that the department would work together with the sector stakeholders, including former administrators, researchers, university registrars, representatives from the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and Universities South Africa (USAf) to develop the Guidelines for Good Governance Practice and Governance Indicators for Councils of South African Public Higher Education Institutions in order to develop governance indicators and monitor governance practices of the country’s universities. 

“I must say that we are yet to realise the full implementation of these guidelines by some of our institutions' councils because we still experience some governance challenges in some of our institutions,” Nzimande said.

Nzimande announced that the department is currently working on a project aimed at supporting and strengthening institutional governance at universities.

He said the first phase of the project comprises research on higher education governance, needs analysis surveys and review of the available literature.

The Minister said the outcomes of the needs analysis report will ultimately inform the interventions that must support and strengthen institutional governance at universities.

These include the review of the Higher Education Act; development of resources on university governance, and development of materials that may be used or adapted by facilitators/trainers appointed by institutions for induction or training sessions of members of council and the relevant stakeholders.

“In ensuring the continuous management and monitoring of our institutions, we are working on the establishment of a governance unit in our department. We are also considering the establishment of an Ombud Office to deal with issues of institutional governance,” Nzimande said. –