Nzimande wants more control over varsities
HIGHER Education Minister Blade Nzimande is considering changing the law to give him more power over the affairs of universities, but this move is likely to be resisted by higher education institutions, which are known to jealously guard their autonomy.
Briefing the media in Parliament yesterday Nzimande said a recent ruling by the Bloemfontein High Court - which overturned his decision to fire a vice chancellor - could render legislation governing higher education obsolete.
Earlier this month Judge Johann Daffue ruled in favour of the Central University of Technology in finding that Nzimande did not have the power to terminate the employment of vice chancellor Professor Thandwa Mthembu.
Daffue ruled that it was also "drastic" that Nzimande had appointed an administrator to oversee the running of the university.
The higher education and training ministry said it was studying the impact of the judgement with a view to amending the Higher Education Act to make it easier to intervene in the affairs of universities, especially where administration had collapsed.
"We are studying and looking at whether this may require some clarity in terms of the law and may be some strengthening so that we are able to intervene within the framework of our constitution, within the framework of not interfering with university autonomy.
"But autonomy can't be used as a kind of maladministration," Nzimande said.
He said the judge had erred in his ruling and that his department would appeal.
"We are worried that this judgment could actually be making the Higher Education Act meaningless.
"It could possibly be interpreted that institutions of higher learning are beyond accountability to government.
"It's basically turning universities into a law unto themselves," Nzimande said.
He added that it was the government's role to ensure that public institutions were not treated as "private property" to abuse taxpayers money.
"We are of the view that the judge perhaps did not fully take into account the totality of the necessity for us to make the kind of intervention that we are making," the minister said.
Nzimande added that the department would appeal the ruling on the grounds that the judge did not take an independent assessor's report into account when making his finding.
The university was placed under administration in June over allegations of financial mismanagement, abuse of power and victimisation.
The University of Zululand and the Tshwane University of Technology are also operating under administration.
"It's not that we like putting universities under administration. It's very stressful to us and to everybody but at the same time we can't stand aside if something is not going all right in our public universities and we do not act," said Nzimande.