Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)

Unisa’s 'mission drift' worries Nzimande

By Jehran Naidoo Time of article published Jul 28, 2020

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Durban - Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande on Tuesday said the University of South Africa (Unisa) is experiencing “mission drift” which might lead to uncertainty about its future.

This followed an independent review of the university by a ministerial task team appointed by Nzimande.

Members of the task team included Dr Vincent Maphai, chairman of mining multinational Sibanye Stillwater; Professor John Volmink, chairman of education accreditation body Umalusi; Professor Louis Molamu of Unisa; Nonkululeko Gobodo, the first black female chartered accountant in South Africa; and Professor Brenda Gourley.

The minister then met with Unisa's council chairperson Sakhi Simelane, deputy chairperson Busani Ngcaweni and the vice-chancellor Professor Mandla Makhanya as well as a full Unisa council to discuss the findings of the review.

Nzimande said Unisa, traditionally a part-time distance-learning institution, was experiencing “mission drift” and becoming more of a full-time university, but this move was never supported by the national government.

“The issue of mission drift has massive implications for the financial sustainability and future of Unisa. It also has materially significant implications for government for both subsidy and student financial aid support as we have seen at the start of the 2020 academic year, when segments of the student community made demands for near full-time equivalent NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) support from government.

"Similarly, mission drift will impose major pressures on infrastructure, teaching staff and a host of other concerns,” said Nzimande in a statement on Tuesday.

According to Nzimande, since the merger of South African universities, which took place between the late 1990s and the early 2000s, there has not been much emphasis on promoting the sustainability of Unisa.

A report by Dinkwanyane Mohuba and Krishna Govender of Taylor and Francis Online, an online journal, revealed that the post-1994 government adopted the merger model with a view to improving the operating and financial leverage of struggling historically disadvantaged tertiary institutions.

“The SA government saw the higher education mergers as an opportunity to rid the post-1994 academic system of deep-rooted apartheid-era distortions and inequalities in the broad education system,” added the authors.

However, more than a decade into the merger, Nzimande said, “there has not been sufficient attention on addressing the underlying drivers of institutional coherence”.

The minister also raised his concerns about the lack of technological advancements being implemented as well the quality of programmes that are being offered at Unisa.

African News Agency/ANA

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