The Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology has launched an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct and maladministration at the University of South Africa (Unisa).

Unisa is the largest university in South Africa by enrollments, with around 400,000 students from across South Africa, Africa and other parts of the world.

The new probe follows an investigation by a ministerial task team in 2020, which focused on the strategic mandate and purpose of the university within the South African context.

Specifically, the task team examined all contextual and institutional factors that impact the current challenges facing the university and advised on the mandate of the institution and its scope of work as a distance education provider.

It made recommendations on measures required to ensure that Unisa is strategically positioned as an institution with a clear mandate and mission, supported by the necessary structures and capacity for a sustainable future, the department said.

However, the task team, following its analysis, also made a number of conclusions responding to issues relating to the strategic mandate of Unisa – including adverse conclusions which suggest shortcomings, challenges and allegations of circumstances that amount to maladministration, the department said.

The university came under fire earlier this year when representatives of the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) alleged that salary adjustments paid to selected academics, professionals and administrative staff took place without the approval of the university council, resulting in millions of rands in over-expenditure.

It also faces allegations of abuse of power in suspending workers, launching disciplinary cases and dismissing staff unlawfully, and misusing funds.

Unisa has called the allegations “unfounded and spurious“.

The department has now gazetted the scope of an independent investigation into affairs at Unisa, and has appointed Professor Themba Mosia as an independent assessor to conduct it.

The overall purpose of the new independent investigation is to advise the higher education minister Blade Nzimande on the source and nature of problems and the university and the measures required to restore good governance and management.

The investigation will look at:

  • The functioning and efficacy of the university’s governance and management structures.
  • The operations of the Office of the Registrar in relation to the management of academic affairs, registration and certification matters and any other matters that the Independent Assessor believes warrant investigation.
  • The state of policies and procedures of the university pertaining to financial management, supply chain management, and procurement; and allegations of financial irregularities.
  • The state of human resource policies and practices of the university, particularly in relation to enhancing organisational efficiency and employment relations at the university.
  • A detailed analysis and report on the circumstances and reasons for the significant number of staff suspensions, disciplinary cases, and dismissals at the university since 2018.
  • The allegations of misconduct and mismanagement against the Vice-Chancellor.
  • Any other matters that, in the opinion of the Assessor, may impact on the effective functioning of the University from the analysis of problems relating to governance and management.

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