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University council chair has no degree

Central University of Technology (CUT) council chairperson Matthew Rantso, who leads PhD holders with only a certificate in hand, is the only such council chairperson among South Africa’s 26 universities.

Rantso is the chief executive of the relatively unknown Exploits Group of Companies located in Bloemfontein, Free State. The company deals with medical and hazardous waste management, alternative sanitation, and medical development brokerage and energy.

There are no records showing that he had any experience in the higher education sector before his election last year. His election ruffled feathers at the CUT.

According to the university’s website, Rantso has an assessor certificate from a Seta as well as a “qualification” from a “continuing professional development” seminar hosted by PwC and the University of the Free State.

Rantso doesn’t inspire confidence

CUT Alumni Association president Mbuyiselo Frans, who also sits on the university’s council, told City Press that he had asked the council to deliberate on Rantso’s credentials and election, but his request had not been entertained.

Instead, Frans alleged that he had been called into an “outside council meeting” by four councillors in an attempt to influence him to change his position.

Frans said he asked the council to review Rantso’s election last year because the latter did not “inspire confidence” due to his qualifications – or lack thereof.

CUT spokesperson Daniel Maritz said the council was not in a position to divulge governance matters to the media. However, he did say that a response to Frans’ request had been given and guidance on procedures provided.

He said Rantso was duly appointed as per the CUT statute that is regulated by the Higher Education Act.

Although the act is not prescriptive in terms of qualifications for council chairpersons, it expressly states that a chairperson should have expertise in the higher education sector.

The higher education department guidelines for good governance practice, as well as governance indicators for councils of public higher education institutions indicate the top criterion to be considered for a chairperson and deputy chairperson is “sufficiently high standing among council members”.

However, this standard is not defined.

“The council members who elected him clearly believed that he has the required leadership skills and governance experience to lead the council. It is important to note that the Higher Education Act and the CUT statute do not stipulate a university degree as a requirement for the position. However, the appropriate skills and experience are required.

“[Rantso’s] appointment is compliant with the CUT statute and the act,” Maritz said.

But Frans said it was expected of a council chairperson to be highly qualified or at least have some form of highly recognised qualification.

Insider paints a picture in collapse

He said:Our institution is on the verge of a governance collapse. On February 9, the institution appeared before the higher education portfolio committee. You’d recall the suspension of former vice-chancellor [Professor Henk de Jager] and deputy vice-chancellor [Gary Paul]. The institution had to account on that.

He said there was also no indication that Rantso had any experience in the higher education sector.

Maritz said the university drew a wealth of knowledge from a diverse range of expertise that members of council brought to the university.

“Therefore experience requirements pertaining to the eligibility of councillors span the entire economy and public sector of the country.”

A university in crisis

A highly placed insider said Rantso’s appointment came at a time when the university was faced with maladministration challenges.

“Our institution is on the verge of a governance collapse. On February 9, the institution appeared before the higher education portfolio committee. You’d recall the suspension of former vice-chancellor [Professor Henk de Jager] and deputy vice-chancellor [Gary Paul]. The institution had to account on that.

“But there’s a general state of chaos at the institution. Students have been striking in recent weeks,” the insider said.

According to a management report tabled at that portfolio committee meeting, the CUT council entered into a mutual separation agreement with De Jager, which led to his departure last year. De Jager and Paul faced allegations relating to procurement irregularities. Paul has been reinstated.

The insider said Rantso’s appointment had worsened tension within the council.

City Press has seen reports tabled by council, management, unions and students at the committee meeting.

In its submission, the National Education, Health and Allied Worker’s Union called for Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande to intervene by appointing an independent assessor to investigate governance, finance and administrative problems.

The union also requested that a holistic forensic investigation be conducted into procurement, promotions and appointments.

At that meeting, an official from Nzimande’s department said they would continue to monitor the situation at the CUT.

Maritz said outcomes of the university’s session with the department would be communicated to the public and media once the matter had been concluded.

He said procurement-related investigations had been conducted in the past and another investigation into allegations of mismanagement was under way.

He said:These investigations have been initiated by virtue of certain irregularities that were detected by means of the vigilance of the relevant line managers – without any reports being received from any union at the CUT.

He said the CUT had a promotions policy for academic employees and was exploring various options related to a promotions policy for support services employees.

Maritz also said a process was under way to appoint a new vice-chancellor.

‘ No fit for Purpose’

City Press has seen an Alumni Association letter addressed to the council, dated May 20 last year.

In it, Frans said they believed that Rantso was not fit for the position of chairperson of a higher education institution.

“The council is the highest decision-making body and is therefore responsible for governance and policy decisions affecting the university, hence we need competent and fit-for-purpose persons to serve in the body, and Rantso does not represent such,” the letter reads.

“We are of the firm view that all external council members must have a tertiary qualification – either a diploma or a degree, not anything lower – as such a council member should have full exposure in higher education, not a mere peep through a short course as we believe is the case with Mr Rantso…

“We are convinced that [Rantso] does not inspire confidence for the CUT [and the Free State] community, especially the alumni of the institution.”

He said the alumni felt demoralised by having Rantso as a chairperson.

“It cannot be this institution that promotes leaders who have lack of formal education in this sector. This sector is so critical that we need individuals who are worth their salt.”

-City Press

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