Cape Town: South Africans have been given the chance to name the country’s two new universities, which are set to be built in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape.
Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande said the proposed names for each university should reflect attributes such as South Africa’s new democracy, inclusiveness, growth and opportunities, outstanding leadership and have some link to each respective province.
Nzimande was briefing media on Thursday after releasing a discussion document titled, ‘Development Framework for New Universities in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape’.
The document sets out the government’s evolving vision and thinking, and outlines key principles, opportunities and challenges that have to be addressed by the government in partnership with stakeholders.
Proposals stemming from the document must reach the department by no later than the end of September.
Nzimande said in addition to new names for each university, state-owned land upon which the universities will be set up must also be acquired and interim councils for each institution must be appointed.
The main campus for the University of Mpumalanga will be located at the Lowveld Agricultural College, while the main seat and campus for the University of the Northern Cape will be located in Kimberley.
The two new universities form part of a government plan to increase university enrolments to 1.5 million, with a project participation rate of 23%, and boost enrolments in colleges and other post-school institutions (such as the proposed community education and training centres) to four million, with an participation rate of 60%.
The enrolment figures are targets for 2030 contained in the Green Paper on the Post-School Education and Training System.
Construction is set to be completed in 2014 and Nzimande said the architect’s plans were being drafted and environmental impact assessments for the two universities were being prepared.
Academic work groups are being set up to develop potential academic focus of each institution and to work out partnerships to enable this outcome.
A project management team is taking the planning processes forward under guidance from a steering committee made up of academics, managers and administrators from existing universities, as well as representatives of the Premiers and the National Institutes of Higher Education in two provinces.
The two universities are expected to have a student intake of 20 000 – 15 000 for Mpumalanga and 5 000 for the Northern Cape.
The objective is to set up strong main campuses for each university, with the aspiration that these will expand to support other campuses over time.
Nzimande said the project team visited and assessed 18 sites in both provinces, and examined these against a set of selection criteria.
Commenting on alleged uncertainty over evictions at the Lowveld Agricultural College, he said it was the first he had heard of this, but stressed that there was no plan to evict anyone from institutions to be associated with the new universities.
Turning to disruptions on the campuses of Tshwane University of Technology, which forced the institution to close earlier this month, Nzimande said some of the grievances – which include concerns over transport, a bursary scheme, facilities such as geysers and toilets at residences not working properly and challenges with students on the financial aid scheme – had been addressed and progress made.
This followed meetings held by the department’s Deputy Minister Mdu Manana, who visited the three campuses and met with stakeholders.
Nzimande called for an urgent resolution of outstanding concerns at the university and encouraged students to return to classes.
Commenting on the judgment issued by Judge JP Daffue in the Bloemfontein High Court last week in the matter between the Central University of Technology and the department, Nzimande said he was concerned that the ruling did not bode well for the running of higher education institutions.
The court’s ruling last week overruled the appointment by the department of an administrator to the university, following a report by an independent assessor, which found there to be an abuse of power, victimisation and maladministration at the institution.
Nzimande, however, said he was taking the matter on review and would shortly announce a course of action.
He said he was concerned that the judgement could make the Higher Education Act meaningless, as it would allow tertiary institutions – paid for by the country’s taxpayers – to effectively govern themselves.
“We’ll appeal right up to the highest level, but also at the same time, we’ll be asking the question ‘are there other mechanisms for intervention (by the department into universities). Or do we need to be strengthening the law – not because we want to run the universities, but because we want to make sure that those universities, as public universities are not private property, but public institutions owned by South Africa’s taxpayers,” he said.