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Grim picture of transformation at SA universities

2019-06-26 00:00

If the status quo persists, our country will keep failing to produce more professors and associate professors who are African women

Defaulting university vice-chancellors face possible court action if they fail to comply with requests for employment demographics at their universities.

This follows the release of the latest Commission for Gender Equality data on transformation at universities.

Reginald Legoabe, board chairperson of advocacy group the Higher Education Transformation Network, told City Press last week that gender transformation had not changed much and the threat of court action was an attempt to compel universities to act.

With the gender commission, the transformation network had facilitated a joint study in September 2016, which highlighted the lack of gender transformation at universities.

However, only respondents from the Tshwane University of Technology had participated in the study. The University of Pretoria (UP) and North-West University (NWU) declined to participate.

The three, Legoabe said, were targeted because, at the time, they were participating in the gender commission’s annual hearings into transformation in higher education.

EDU

He said it was a surprise and a disappointment that UP and NWU refused to be participate.

The study found that there was noncompliance with employment equity targets, contract employment of African women in junior administrative workforce roles, discriminatory workplace practices, workplace victimisation, poor career growth avenues for female staff members, adverse organisational cultures, disappropriate or secretive remuneration scales and a high turnover of black and/or female staff.

EDU

Legoabe said they had used the Promotion of Access to Information Act to request data from UP, Unisa, Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, Walter Sisulu University and the University of Venda on Friday last week and were in the process of doing the same with 20 more universities.

They hoped to complete the process by Friday.

“We are not merely looking at compliance through submission of reports, but at whether the stated Employment Equity Act targets that were initially set in 1999 have been attained and, if not, what the underlying reasons are,” Legoabe said.

EDU

He said they had not received feedback from the six universities, but the reason could be the multiple reporting management echelons in universities.

The institutions would be allowed 60 days to submit their proper responses.

If the information act requests failed, he said, they would escalate the matter by demanding records in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act and might subsequently institute high court applications to compel the delivery of the required records.

EDU

“We are considering alternatively requesting copies of such Employment Equity Act records from the labour department if they will allow it. We would prefer not to get the records from the department because affected institutions might deny authenticity of such records during court processes,” Legoabe said.

The Council for Higher Education, Legoabe said, was empowered in terms of its statute to push for gender transformation and employment equity compliance, “but it is failing to prioritise this matter”.

He said the council needed to change its strategic approach.

“We feel the council can do more in this regard to enforce compliance and proper ongoing reporting to attain credible targets,” he said.

EDU

Universities SA, he said, could do more to enforce compliance, but “is also not doing so since it is the members of Universities SA who are failing to enforce compliance and keep submitting but amending and restating employment equity reports submitted to the labour department”.

Interventions to improve transformation, Legoabe said, could include universities implementing clear succession plans with numeric targets to track the development of woman academic staff members.

This would also track progress towards attaining the National Development Plan (NDP) targets; each institution would set a specific number to reach the overall target of 500 000 doctorate degrees by 2030.

EDU

Others included:

. Monitoring the progress of institutional employment equity plans and the reasons for the revision of targets submitted to the labour department;

. Setting aside a specific number for black women;

. Compulsory provision of childcare facilities for staff at universities; and

. Enforcement of equal pay for equal work.

He said the problem had not been noncompliance in reporting, but rather ensuring employment equity targets were met, and not continually amended and restated because of “one reason or the other”.

However, Legoabe said, some institutions complied with the legislation and had produced some results, but more institutions needed to comply. Failure of universities to comply, he said, meant the country would not attain its stated targets in the NDP Vision 2030.

The national target, Legoabe said, was to increase the output of black and woman lecturers, students and researchers.

He said the target would ensure that gender and racial imbalances in the higher education sector were reversed.

It would ensure Africans and women would make up 50% of the teaching and research staff of universities.

“If the status quo persists, our country will keep failing to produce more African woman professors and associate professors. This will mean our national knowledge management pool and associated research productivity, as well as the knowledge management efficiency of our academic and research staff will lag behind other countries, and this will ultimately affect our country’s GDP in the transnational economic wars being waged,” he said.

WHAT OTHERS SAY

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said the university remained committed to addressing employment equity and to adhering to the requirements of the act.

It had and will always cooperate with structures as outlined in the act, he said.

Ishmael Mnisi, spokesperson for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, said the transformation oversight committee was testing and considering the best mechanism to gauge transformation in the higher education sector.

“Despite its design, regulatory and operational limitations, the committee has done some productive work in the past few years. The term of the current committee will come to an end next year, and the department will review its work and advise the minister on what processes need to be put in place going forward.”

Universities SA chief executive officer Professor Ahmed Bawa said there had been attempts to address the gender issue going back to the 1990s and early 2000s.

However, Bawa said these had not been sufficient. He said it was not enough to get young academics into the academic field without helping them to develop throughout the system and succeed.

There were more woman lecturers, but men dominated the senior academic levels, he said.

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September 15 2019