Many Challenges

The process of restructuring began when former Minister of Education, Kader Asmal (1999-2004) came into office and quickly began “ripping stuff apart or putting them together in new ways that a lot of people found extremely stressful.”84 Asmal essentially told people who would merge with whom and how they were to do it. Many did not respond well to all the changes he mandated.85

One of the key challenges in any merger is bringing different institutions with different cultures, systems, and people together to form one cohesive institution with a shared culture and purpose. Management of the process is key, and in many cases, the mergers have not been managed very well. Different work ethics, institutional processes, faculty qualifications, and pay are but some of the issues that can arise.86

An example of the challenge of merging two institutions that had fundamentally different missions, student bodies, and curricula is the University of Johannesburg, which was created in 2005 from the merger of what was called Rand Afrikaans University and an underfinanced technical school located nearby. Rand Afrikaans was a traditional higher education institution that was established to serve working-class Afrikaner students under the old apartheid government. It was a relatively well- endowed university that catered specifically to students in that class.

The technical school, prior to its merger with Rand Afrikaans, had itself incorporated a small section of another institution, which was previously disbanded and broken up into different parts; this piece was established as the technical school’s western campus. Each of the two institutions, before merging as the University of Johannesburg, had a distinct and homogenous student body. One institution had a white and relatively privileged student body and the other a black, far less affluent, student body.87

Some of the difficulties that faculty and staff members have experienced have related to problems around perceptions of academic standing. Each institution, as well its professors and administrators, was operating under a different system of remuneration and way of operating. That, in turn, influenced how people from the two institutions have perceived the process. As a result, they have struggled with how to accommodate each other.88

There have also been issues of faculty expertise and questions as to where faculty members from the two merging institutions would teach in the new institution.89 Some people thought that those at the larger, formerly white, institution received “special treatment” in terms of teaching loads, research opportunities, and promotions.90

In the years since the establishment of the University of Johannesburg, relationships among faculty members have definitely improved. The upper management of the university, as well as the middle management, has made a deliberate attempt resolve issues of equity and make sure the environment is inclusive.91

That said, other challenges have remained. As a result of the merger, some believe that certain people have been placed on the same level as others but do not have the same experience, work ethic or expertise92 and, in fact, that they lack the qualifications required of an academic at a university. For example, senior lecturers from both institutions now work at the university, but while those from one have been expected to and do publish, those from the other have never published and can’t work at the level expected. This creates animosity and an unpleasant work environment for all involved.

The response from the University of Johannesburg has been to try to help those who are lagging to catch up. The university is now embarking on a drive to ensure that all staff members have, at a minimum, a master’s degree.93 That is certainly a long-term solution and will serve the university well in the future. The problem is how to deal with the issue in the short term.

In addition, the mergers have put higher education institutions in a situation where they are jockeying for position within the hierarchy. The top management of each institution sets objectives for growth and change according to the type of institution they want to become, and it is then up to the faculty and staff to achieve those ambitious goals. This is taking a personal toll,94 as academics are increasing finding it difficult to fulfill a growing number of responsibilities and duties. Class sizes have expanded tremendously, research is becoming increasingly important to many institutions, community service obligations have expanded, and members of various departments must now also generate funding.95

It appears the comprehensive universities, where the focus is on teaching and bachelor’s degrees and technology qualifications, have experienced the most difficulty. The mergers created challenges related to curriculum, institutional identity, and “market relevance.”96 Part of the problem was that, after the mergers, the universities did not have a clear idea of what they were or how to deliver on the government’s mandate. The temptation was to copy the model and approach of traditional universities. The danger is that institutions will spread themselves too thin: by trying to do everything, they will do nothing well.97

One of the biggest challenges for the comprehensive universities is how to respond to market needs. They must expand the number and type of their course offerings, providing a variety of programs from undergraduate to doctoral degrees, and a mix of types of knowledge, including technical, vocational, career-oriented, and professional. They must choose what they are going to be—and that may be multiple institutions within one



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