Max Price
Max Price

UCT concern over minister’s ‘autonomy’

By Carlo Petersen Time of article published Feb 16, 2016

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Carlo Petersen and ANA

UCT vice-chancellor Max Price has submitted to Parliament that the minister of Higher Education and Training should not have autonomy on transformation policies and disciplinary matters at universities.

Price made submissions to the portfolio committee on higher education and training on behalf of UCT at public hearings for the Higher Education Amendment (HEA) Bill yesterday.

Other institutes making submissions included the Council on Higher Education (CHE), Catholic Institute of Education (CIE), SA Parastatal and Tertiary Institutions Union (Saptu), the SACP and the Higher Education Transformation Network.

Price told the committee UCT’s main concern was the autonomy the minister would be allowed if the bill was passed.

“Our concern is specifically that the minister may issue a directive where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the council or the management of that higher education institute has acted in an unfair, discriminatory or wrongful manner towards a person who it owes a duty by law.

“Our submission is that this clause should be removed altogether because any individual who is treated in a manner by a higher institution that breaches their rights in terms of law has recourse to law,” Price said.

He added that if the minister is “solely responsible for making that judgement”, it will lead to ongoing disputes and court cases.

He also told the committee the minister’s power to determine transformation goals should be executed in consultation with the CHE.

The CHE – which has been mandated to advise Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande – welcomed most of the proposed amendments.

CHE chief executive Narend Baijnath said they noted the “intention and spirit” of the provision for the minister to determine transformation goals and institute oversight mechanisms, which was in contrast with the concerns raised by UCT and Saptu.

“It has become clear that left to their own devices, higher education institutions may not accord this key goal the urgency it deserves,” Baijnath said, adding that the CHE welcomed the proposal of a transparent oversight mechanism to tackle slow transformation.

In terms of the ministerial directives and the independent assessor or administrator, he said the capacity for speedy intervention was needed to prevent irreparable damage.

UCT, Saptu, and the CIE all raised concerns in this regard, mainly in relation to institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Baijnath said: “We do not read in them (the amendments) an intention to dilute the academic freedom and independence in teaching and research functions, which we believe are central to what universities stand for and value most”.

The CHE’s concerns also differed to those asserted by the CIE.

Most notable among the concerns was the proposal that the Higher Education Act be subordinate to certain provisions of the National Qualifications Act.

They also raised a concern with private higher education institutions, saying that if they registered as universities or university colleges, they need to have senates.

The public hearings are set to continue today.

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