Monday, November 14, 2011

TUT Needs To Regain Trust From Its Students

Kgothatso Madisa

Prof. Lourens van Staden
Just under two weeks ago newspapers reported on former Tshwane University of Technology Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Lourens van Staden, being appointed by Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande as Administrator of the financially ailing Walter Sisulu University. He subsequently had to resign from TUT as a result.

Earlier this year van Staden showed that he wanted to stay at TUT as he was one of the top contenders of the Vice Chancellor post and seemed to have been most qualified for it before it was given to Prof. Johnny Molefe who had been found to have obtained an invalid doctorate from St George University International, in the Bahamas, in the Caribbean. The university doesn’t exist anymore and Molefe and others at TUT had received these degrees online without meeting a single individual from the now non-existent university and it appears he had been informed of this by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) which refused to recognise his qualification in 2007.

Despite the knowledge that he didn’t have a doctorate Molefe went ahead and accepted the post of Vice Chancellor of the university and TUT appointed him after warnings from Nzimande who, after not receiving a proper explanation on the reasons for the appointment, decided to appoint Prof. Themba Mosia as the university’s administrator who after a thorough investigation eventually fired Molefe two weeks ago.

As Molefe was losing his job at TUT, a man supported by some for the top post earlier this year, van Staden, accepted the post to help Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape out of its troubles. This shows the trust that the Higher Education Ministry has in the man who could have been good for the university. The rhetoric one would sometimes hear from some staff members in Pretoria before he lost the contest to Molefe is that a black head was needed. The university’s Student Representative Council (SRC) also supported this view and Molefe was their favourite candidate at the time too. All those who supported Molefe would talk of how the invalid doctorate was a minor issue – which is strange as the Tshwane Univesity of Technology is in the business of issuing qualifications and placed as one of the top 25 universities in Africa in the latest 4 International University and College Rankings. Another study by Webometrics places TUT as the number one University of Technology in South Africa. One would think the high ranking would make the university realise the importance of hiring academically qualified management.

The issue of race seems to have been the only reason van Staden was overlooked as he, like Molefe, had been with the TUT for close to 20 years as he started at the former Technikon Northern Gauteng before the merger to form the Tshwane University of Technology. Some at TUTstaff liked him and he seemed to have done a great job as the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Technology. 

When one walks in the corridors it is likely that there would be murmurs from some about how unfair it was for Molefe to lose the VC post as the university was still shopping for a SAQA recognised institution that would validate the qualification. Earlier this year there were even reports of a certain university in China that would possibly take the research done for PhD level, scrutinise it and then issue a doctorate. I’ve never heard of someone receiving a job without the qualification with the hope that the employer would assist in getting the papers required for the position.

Higher Education Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, placed TUT under admin.
As a student I have lost trust in the university despite its high ranking. I came here because of the good name TUT has. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says TUT has one of the potential centres of journalism learning excellence in South Africa – the others being Rhodes, Stellenbosch and Walter Sisulu. Despite it being the only one in Gauteng I believe that the university needs to do massive damage control if it wants to restore the trust of students such as myself and restore the trust of those considering to study here.

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