Audit report gives University of Zululand the all-clear despite scandals

10 March 2018 - 09:00 By Suthentira Govender
The University of Zululand has been rocked by several scandals in the past, including a degrees-for-sale controversy.
The University of Zululand has been rocked by several scandals in the past, including a degrees-for-sale controversy.
Image: Gallo Images/City Press/Khaya Ngwenya

The University of Zululand‚ which has been rocked by degrees-for-sale scandals and being placed under administration‚ is not dysfunctional‚ a special audit report by the Council of Higher Education has found. 

A full audit into the beleaguered university’s affairs was conducted by the council in June last year‚ following a formal request by Blade Nzimande‚ the higher education and training minister at the time.

TimesLive is in possession of the 96-page report‚ which gauged whether the university was effectively implementing the recommendations of an administrator appointed in 2011‚ after an assessor found that the university was in “serious trouble”.

The institution had been plagued by allegations of financial mismanagement and degrees-for-sale scandals. In 2016 the Sunday Times reported a probe had been instituted after allegations surfaced that more than 4 000 people may have bought fake degrees over a 20-year period.

The audit report found that in “recent times the university suffered significant reputational damage because reports of corruption in relation to its qualifications alleged degrees-for-sale and that the student record - namely the university record of student achievement - had been tampered with by corrupt university officials”.

The audit panel‚ according to the report‚ looked into allegations where a verification agency detected a number of degrees had been doctored and reports of corruption affecting the “integrity of the student record or the integrity of the university’s certification process”.

“The panel established ... that during 2015/2016 some staff‚ who were not able to and did not alter the system’s records‚ produced false‚ desktop documentation purportedly certifying Unizul’s academic achievements of persons who had not achieved at the university.

“The panel was informed that apparent fraud was perpetuated by manual manipulation of desk-top documentation‚ changing names and identity numbers on documentation.”

According to the report‚ the panel was confident that “there was no alteration to the university records on the electronic system”.

Four staff members were dismissed and criminal charges were opened against them. The university subsequently put stronger security systems in place.

The panel found that the university suffered “reputation damage due to the fraudulent acts of four former staff members”.

“The university is going to have to do more to restore confidence in the authenticity of the qualifications legitimately earned by students.

“The university is not dysfunctional as portrayed in the media and perceived by the public‚ much as the university has a long period of instability which led to the appointment of an assessor‚ followed shortly thereafter by that of an administrator.”

The report stated that “national perceptions of degrees-for-sale are misplaced”.

Among its recommendations‚ the council suggested that the university consider a strategy that will address “issues of institutional reputation”.

It also recommended that the university address “serious security concerns” by staff and students and that it improves its infrastructure - in line with its budget - to enable an environment conducive to teaching‚ learning and research.

It further recommended that the institution address issues related to staff housing and human resources strategies.

The council proposed that the university be granted one year to address the 17 recommendations listed in its report.

The university didn't respond to queries about the report.

Meanwhile‚ the university shut its KwaDlangezwa campus on Thursday‚ after students allegedly torched university property and two police vehicles during a protest over meal allowances.