University bosses in the money
● Executives in charge of local universities are taking home top-notch pay cheques.
For example, former University of Johannesburg (UJ) vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg received R17.6m last year, the final year of his 12-year tenure. Of this, R13.7m was in retention incentives accumulated over 10 years — which works out to an average annual incentive of R1.3m.
Of the 19 universities that have disclosed the 2017 salaries of their vice-chancellors, Stellenbosch University paid the most — Wim de Villiers re ce iv edR4.5m, which includes a R 330,000 bonus. Close behind was former University of Venda head Peter Mbati, who pocketed R4.2m.
SA has 26 public universities. Walter Sisulu University and Nelson Mandela University declined to disclose vice-chancellors’ salaries, while the Vaal University of Technology, University of Zululand, University of the Free State, Central University of Technology and the University of Mpumalanga did not respond to media queries.
The salaries and perks paid out to some vice-chancellors — the academic world’s equivalent of CEOs — have sparked calls for a probe by the department of higher education.
Tightening their belts
In other areas, universities are tightening their belts — according to Stats SA, higher education institutions cut their capital expenditure by 5.4% last year.
Last year UJ paid Rensburg’s successor, Tshilidzi Marwala, R5m in his role as one of Rensburg’s deputies and later vice-chancellor-designate .This included a R 695,429 bonus and a R1.4m retention incentive that was deferred for three years.
Jairam Reddy, a former chair of the Dur- ban University of Technology council, said higher education minister Naledi Pandor should ask university councils to regulate the salaries of vice-chancellors.
“If they fail to bring about regulation themselves, then the government may have to intervene because bridging the inequality gap in this country overrides everything else,” said Reddy, a former vice-chancellor of the then University of Durban-Westville.
He said those appointed to high posts were hired on the basis of their qualifications, experience and commitment.
“Once you are committed, you are expected to give 100% of your time and service. There can be no justification for bonuses because once you start awarding bonuses at the top level, everybody in the university should get it and that’s not possible.”
One vice-chancellor, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged some of his peers were receiving exorbitant salaries and perks.
“There should be a uniform salary structure for all vice-chancellors,” he said, calling Rensburg’s R17m payout “ridiculous”.
UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen defended Rensburg’s payout, saying the council had approved a compensation scheme for exceptional performers under which payment was deferred for three to 10 years.
“Given that the payments were spread over 10 years, it is not correct to suggest these amounts are extremely excessive, let alone extreme.”
Esterhuizen said that in its deliberations on pay the council had recognised that the university, created in 2005 by merging three separate institutions, had followed an “upward academic and research trajectory”.
The Sunday Times was unable to reach Rensburg this week.
George Steyn, chair of the council of Stellenbosch University, said De Villiers’s total package was determined by, among other things, his record on strategy implementation, the university’s research and learning achievements, and its long-term financial sustainability.
“At Stellenbosch, the vice-chancellor plays a pivotal role as fundraiser,” Steyn said.
He said the size of the bonus awarded to De Villiers was determined annually after a comprehensive performance assessment by the council’s remuneration council.
Mbati referred queries about his remuneration to the University of Venda, which did not respond.
Ahmed Bawa, the CEO of Universities SA, an organisation that represents SA’s universities, said the turnover of vice-chancellors was “extraordinary”, with 13 new heads being appointed in the 18 months up to June this year. “This is an indication of the kind of detail and information that councils take into account when setting salaries,” he said.
Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for the department of higher education, said the department had no mechanism to regulate executive pay at public universities.
He said the department was examining the 2017 annual reports and would, where necessary, request institutions to provide further information about executive payments that appeared unusual or excessive.
If [universities] fail to bring about regulation themselves, then the government may have to intervene
Jairam Reddy Former chair of the council of the Durban University of Technology