Mur­der of dean who ex­posed fraud shines spot­light on cor­rup­tion

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Con­cern about cor­rup­tion in South African higher ed­u­ca­tion has mounted in the af­ter­math of the mur­der of a se­nior scholar who tried to blow the whis­tle on aca­demic fraud.

Gre­gory Kamwendo (pic­tured in­set), dean of arts at the Univer­sity of Zu­l­u­land, was shot and killed out­side his home in May last year. Two men ap­peared in court last month charged with his mur­der and one, Solly Nkuna, was an aca­demic and for­mer col­league of Pro­fes­sor Kamwendo.

One line of in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­lieved to be that Pro­fes­sor Kamwendo may have been tar­geted af­ter he un­cov­ered how PhDs were be­ing fraud­u­lently awarded at Zu­l­u­land, an 18,000-stu­dent in­sti­tu­tion on South Africa’s eastern coast.

Belinda Boz­zoli, South Africa’s shadow higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that the killing of Pro­fes­sor Kamwendo was the lat­est twist in an “on­go­ing saga” of prob­lems at Zu­l­u­land. Aca­demic cor­rup­tion in South Africa had got to a “par­tic­u­larly bad point if peo­ple are pre­pared to kill for it”, said Pro­fes­sor Boz­zoli, for­mer deputy vice-chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand.

In a state­ment, Zu­l­u­land con­demned “spec­u­la­tions” over the mur­der. How­ever, it added that man­agers – in­clud­ing Pro­fes­sor Kamwendo – had dis­cov­ered “pro­ce­dural and qual­ity short­com­ings” among pre­sented dis­ser­ta­tions and the­ses, which had re­sulted in dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures against su­per­vi­sors and aca­demic staff at the in­sti­tu­tion.

Pro­fes­sor Kamwendo was also one of a num­ber of man­agers who “bore the brunt” of crit­i­cism over a drive to root out em­ploy­ees with fraud­u­lent qual­i­fi­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to the univer­sity.

“Un­for­tu­nately it has be­come a norm that when the per­pe­tra­tors, who have con­nec­tions in higher places, are dis­ci­plined by man­age­ment, the blame is shifted to man­age­ment and [they are] ac­cused of mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion prac­tices and vic­tim­i­sa­tion of staff,” the state­ment said. “It is these dis­rup­tive ten­den­cies that con­tinue to un­der­mine the man­age­ment of Unizulu in­ter­nally and na­tion­ally.

“It is the view of the univer­sity that Pro­fes­sor Kamwendo could have been a vic­tim of this con­tin­u­a­tion of un­der­min­ing the lead­er­ship through mafia ten­den­cies, hence his tragic as­sas­si­na­tion.”

Zu­l­u­land is not the only South African in­sti­tu­tion un­der scru­tiny: in Novem­ber, the South Africa Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion con­cluded that there were “sys­tem­atic, in­sti­tu­tional chal­lenges” at the Univer­sity of South Africa re­lated to bul­ly­ing, favouritism in ap­point­ments and ha­rass­ment. In De­cem­ber, al­le­ga­tions of de­gree fraud sur­faced at Zu­l­u­land’s neigh­bour­ing in­sti­tu­tion, the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal.

Naledi Pan­dor, South Africa’s higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, said it was “clear that there are crim­i­nals out­side and within our univer­sity sys­tem who will stop at noth­ing to use our uni­ver­si­ties for fi­nan­cial gain”.

Ar­gu­ing that uni­ver­si­ties “should be bat­tle­fields of ideas, not bat­tle­fields of cor­rup­tion”, Ms Pan­dor de­scribed the threats to aca­demics as a “grave con­cern”.

How­ever, Pro­fes­sor Boz­zoli said she be­lieved that cor­rup­tion in South African higher ed­u­ca­tion was “much more var­ied and wide­spread than we like to think”, and called for rad­i­cal ac­tion.

“The rem­edy is that some of these uni­ver­si­ties will need to be closed and re­opened as new in­sti­tu­tions. It’s very likely that cor­rup­tion and the ‘pa­tron­age pol­i­tics’ are so well es­tab­lished there that it is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to fix those uni­ver­si­ties without start­ing again,” Pro­fes­sor Boz­zoli said. “Those uni­ver­si­ties should be fo­cused on teach­ing and need to be re­formed to re­flect that.”

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