Unitech pride must be restored

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday 10th April, 2013

 WITH the graduation for University of Technology  just two days away, the students at this premier institution are fidgety over who is going to sign their certificates and degrees.

And so they should.

It is the small rolled up piece of paper which they have spent many years to achieve and upon which the future will depend for most of them.

So yes, who signs the paperwork is absolutely important.

But are all the students concerned about this, or are many using the graduation to score further points in their determined push to get Dr Albert Schram back into the country and back as head of the institution?

We are certain the government appointed committee is working hard towards resolving the Unitech issues but we feel inclined to direct their attention back to the pertinent historical points which has led to this current crisis lest it be sidetracked by pressing current issues.

The events at the institute resulted from long standing problems dating back many years and those that relate to Schram and the situation that developed when he took office in February, 2012.  

All relevant points were raised by the first mediation committee report headed by Prof David Kavanamur.

The problems the Kavanamur committee categorised were as follows: 

l Council’s leadership of the university was seen to be lethargic and, at the same time, self-serving; 

l Weak management of the university by the previous administration, which allegedly led to poor staff discipline, staff-infighting and poor policy design and implementation;

l Poor funding of the university over many years by the government; 

l Poor synchronisation of government  policies – in this case, the haste to push through top-up high schools but not preparing tertiary institutions such as Unitech to carry the extra student load; 

l High turnover of qualified staff caused mainly by better employment conditions elsewhere. This has led to a significantly higher level of reliance on expatriate staff, which then becomes a financial burden for the university; 

l National teaching and support staff members have for a long time felt that their welfare issues have not been adequately attended to or addressed; 

l Alleged mismanagement practices that bordered on corruption and fraud, and 

l Students feeling that they were not getting the type of attention or services that they expected and deserved. 

A way forward was suggested by that committee and we feel that their recommendation  ought to be followed to the letter to rebuild, resuscitate and strengthen the university to restore it fully to its glory days.

The first focus must be directed at the Unitech council which has failed to run the institution with due care and diligence required under the University  Act. 

Blame must fall first and foremost on the council and those on it must face up to the fact.

It makes sense therefore for the current members of the council to step aside voluntarily in order for new members to be appointed. If the government feels so inclined it might even appoint some of the old members. If such an idea is too gruesome, then Government should terminate the council and appoint a new one.

The UOG ruling stands as a precedent for the present government to fall back on.

In the UOG case, the chancellor and vice-chancellor called in the Education Minister to intervene when they thought the council of that university was not discharging its duties.

A Garanaut/Namaliu report has proposed downsizing the University Councils including the University of Technology. 

This ought to be taken on board seriously.

An investigation team from the Finance Department should right now be scouring the books of the university to investigate claims of fraud and mismanagement that has been rife.

A closer look at the appointment process of Schram has been recommended, if not for anything than to demystify what is shrouded in mystery so that future appointments are not made in a like fashion.

The Government ought to infuse greater financial resources to address needy areas of Unitech.

The student body has hardly been partial in the entire case and would be well-advised to take a more impartial role and be concerned about the welfare of its membership.

It is vital that the process of turning the fortunes of the university around is undertaken swiftly, professionally, firmly and transparently so that all appreciate the need for change and appreciate the changes instituted as being good for the future of this institution.