Only seven out of South Africa’s 26 universities have responded “positively” to a probe into the salaries and benefits paid to senior university executives, in particular vice-chancellors.
That’s according to Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande, who briefed MPs during a virtual sitting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education on Friday.
Nzimande said, following deliberations, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) set up a task team to oversee the project.
“A project initiation meeting involving the Council Task Team and officials from the department took place in May. The CHE wrote to Councils of all universities on 11 May 2020 to inform them about the objectives, scope, and processes of the study; and the nature of inputs expected from them and their respective institutions. By 29 May, the CHE had received positive responses from seven universities,” Nzimande said.
He said during a meeting in May, Universities South Africa (USAf) committed to support the inquiry.
Nzimande had requested the CHE to undertake the inquiry from 1994 to the present.
The council, however, wrote to Nzimande to recommend that the investigation should commence from the date of mergers of universities.
“Given concerns around data availability and accessibility for universities that ceased to exist after the mergers, an attempt to access the data may prolong the inquiry without much extra value being added to the exercise. The council task team met again on 27 May to consider various options for funding the project,” he said.
Annual salaries in the millions
In October last year, BusinessTech looked at the latest available remuneration data for the heads of South Africa’s top universities.
Data was taken from the latest available annual financial report of each institution (2018, and in some cases 2017).
It found University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Professor Tshilidzi Marwala earned an annual salary of R4 907 529, Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela R2 991 000, and Stellenbosch University vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers pocketed R4 840 000 annually.
The total pay included basic salaries as well as employment benefits.
The project is planned to run for 11 months and a report should be completed by March 2021.
Nzimande said an advisory submission on the feasibility of institutionalising a system-wide policy on regulating remunerations of university executives, and the implications of such a measure on the principle of institutional autonomy (within the context of public accountability) for the resources dispensed to universities by the state, will be produced shortly after March.
Committee chairperson Philly Mapulane said the remuneration is a controversial issue.
“It is quite sensitive. It is, however, worth pursuing and we have seen responsiveness on this issue,” he said.