HIGHER LEARNING: Students stroll past the University of the Witwatersrand's Great Hall. Picture: THE TIMES
HIGHER LEARNING: Students stroll past the University of the Witwatersrand's Great Hall. Picture: THE TIMES

AN OVERSIGHT committee to measure the pace of transformation at South Africa’s 23 public universities will be established next week, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said on Wednesday.

This comes about five years after former education minister Naledi Pandor requested a report on the state of transformation at universities.

The report was released in 2009. Among its recommendations was the establishment of a permanent oversight committee to address disjunction between policy and the reality of transformation on campuses, and "painfully slow" progress in eradicating discrimination in higher education.

The report was commissioned following public outrage over the so-called "Reitz Four" scandal at the University of the Free State in 2007, where four white students were shown in a video conducting a racially insulting initiation.

Speaking in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Mr Nzimande said that despite the delay in establishing the committee, work on transformation had continued.

The response by universities, which had made their own submissions on the report, had been generally good, he said, and two summits on transformation had been held. But the committee was still necessary, he added.

Mr Nzimande did not name any universities that may be lagging in terms of transformation, but urged universities to support the transformation agenda.

"I expect no university to argue autonomy as a defence for racism and sexism," he said. "We support autonomous institutions but that autonomy must not be used to justify discrimination."

The committee will be chaired by Prof Malegapuru Makgoba, vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It will also include Dr Mvuyo Tom, vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, and Prof Shirley Walters of the University of the Western Cape.

Other members are Zingiswa Losi, second deputy president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and Joe Mpisi, deputy president of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union.

The members will formally take up their positions following the publication of the establishment of the oversight body in the Government Gazette next week.

Nazeema Mohamed, another committee member and transformation director at the University of Witwatersrand, said the committee would monitor transformation in universities and make recommendations to the minister based on its findings.

"I believe the committee will be looking at the entire higher education sector," she said. "They don’t want to make the committee too big but through the committee there will be more steering to get universities to be more responsive."

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, enrolment of black students at universities has increased about 91.5% since 1995. However, many students do not complete their degrees in the allocated time.

"There are people who can’t afford university and others who are unable to complete their degrees on time. Those who graduated in a given year could have enrolled during previous years as well," said Jonathan Snyman, a researcher at the institute.