Mandla Makhanya. Picture: SOWETAN
Mandla Makhanya. Picture: SOWETAN

Unisa’s information technology tender, dogged by allegations of corruption, has been blamed for a backlog in issuing study materials to students.

The university is the country’s largest tertiary institution providing services for nearly 400,000 students using traditional, blended and distance-learning methods. Unisa last week blamed a delay in delivering study materials to students on an unexpected increase in student registration numbers for the 2017 academic year.

A total of 25,848 students are affected by 95 sets of study materials being out of stock.

Ordinarily, students would receive study materials within 10 days of registration, according to the student representative council (SRC), which has pinned the university’s shortcomings on an information technology tender gone wrong.

SRC national postgraduate officer Wadzanai Mazhetese said the foreign company with which the university had forged a deal and which failed to deliver an upgraded information technology system, was never held accountable and the university had lost out on more than half a billion rand in funds.

The current online system was not reflecting information in real time and made it difficult for management to know how many students were registering and when they were doing it, Mazhetese said.

"As a result, Unisa has failed to manage the online admission system that dictates how many students each module can take depending on resources available," he said. "What we have observed is that it is not these small factors they highlight because it is a recurring issue and there are people benefiting from the value chain."

Unisa spokesman Martin Ramotshela rejected the allegations and would not be drawn on who the contractor was, although he did admit that there had been an internal audit investigation conducted into procurement and payment processes.

All Unisa tenders were subject to rigorous and open processes as they were managed in accordance with the institution’s procurement policy, Ramotshela said.

"All matters pertaining to the audit investigation are matters that the university is addressing internally," he said.

Where students were still awaiting study materials, it was as a result of huge and unexpected increases in student enrolment in specific modules, Ramotshela said.

The SRC claimed the issue was a continuous one that had also affected students in the previous semester to the point that many went into their exams without having received the necessary study materials.

Meanwhile, the student body called for the Unisa principal and vice-chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya, to be removed from his position, alleging he was complacent over the situation.

"We have recommended that the vice-chancellor be suspended as he doesn’t do anything except agree with students at face value but nothing else," the student body said.

While some stakeholders had called for the removal of the vice-chancellor, issues pertaining to his employment and performance were between Makhanya and the university council, Ramotshela said.

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