SA’s top varsity heads coining it

MPs question disproportionately high paid salaries to senior executives at South African universities

Data from Statistics SA (Stats SA) released this week showed that South African universities spent more than R60-billion paying staff and purchasing goods and services in the 2018 financial year.

The study investigated the books of 20 universities and six universities of technology. The institutions paid their staff a combined R40-billion, while suppliers were paid R21-billion in the period under review.

The stats agency said the R2.7-billion increase in the quantum paid to employees, from R37.3-billion in 2017 to R40-billion last year, was mainly due to an increase in compensation of employees by the University of South Africa (Unisa), Wits University and the University
of Pretoria (UP). Unisa, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and UP were the top three universities in compensating their employees.

UCT paid its employees R3.3-billion, while Unisa splashed out R5-billion in salaries and UP compensated its staff to the tune of R3.4-billion.

Unisa’s vice-chancellor (VC) Mandla Makhanya earned R5.2-million last year and the second-highest earner, Tshilidzi Marwala of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), took SA’s top varsity heads coining it MPs question disproportionately high paid salaries to senior executives at South African universities.

The combined amount SA’s universities paid staff in the 2018 financial year home R4.9-million. University of Zululand VC Xoliswa Mtose earned R4.4-million while UCT’s boss Mamokgethi Phakeng took home R1.5-million for six months’ work as the new VC.

Wits’s head honcho Adam Habib was paid R4.4-million in the period while his peer Wim de Villiers of the University of Stellenbosch pocketed R4.9-million and University of the Free State’s Francis William Petersen was rewarded with a R4.2-million bounty.

MPs last month called for an investigation into the salaries paid to senior executives at South African universities.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology said that the salaries paid to these executives are not proportional to the performance of their institutions in connection with research outputs, throughput rates and other important factors.

The US News & World Report last month released its 2020 Best Global Universities rankings. The survey ranked UCT as SA’s best university but it was 120th in the world standings.

Wits, which is ranked second after UCT in SA, is placed a lowly 200th in the world, while the University of Stellenbosch, which is number three in the country, was placed 329th in global rankings.

Unisa is ranked 951st in the world. Stats SA said the increase of R1.1-billion in purchases of goods and services, from R20.7-billion in 2017 to R21.8-billion in 2018, was mainly due to increased payments by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Unisa and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).

The data further showed that the institutions of higher learning received R27.4-billion in tuition fees last year compared to R24.1-billion in the previous year. Unisa, Wits and UCT accounted for the lion’s share of the tuition received in the period.

Unisa received R3.3-billion in tuition fees in the 2018 financial year, UP R2.1-billion and Wits R1.7-billion.

By Kabelo Khumalo 

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