DA calls for a centralized university ombudsman system

Issued by Chantel King MP – DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education
15 Dec 2022 in News

The 2023 academic year is around the corner, but the challenges of 2022 has not been resolved making university spaces a breeding ground for conflict if grievances aren’t addressed.

It is very concerning that only 8 out of 26 universities have an ombud system where students, and academic and non-academic staff can raise concerns in a confidential setting.

The DA is calling on the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, to gather inputs from higher education institutions regarding a centralized university ombud system to all 26 universities.

The University Ombud should be seen as an impartial and confidential resource to address university related issues, complaints and concerns. The ombud work collaboratively with academic and general staff to help create a campus environment where matters raised are investigated and resolutions are facilitated. They act on request of parties, is not subjected to any imperative mandate and acts with autonomy and independently of all universities.

University of Cape Town (UCT), Rhodes University, UNISA, Stellenbosch University, and Vaal University of Technology have ombud offices at the universities, while Nelson Mandela University outsource services of the ombud.

The disregard of the recommendation of the previous UCT ombud’s report in the behavior of the UCT Vice-Chancellor (VC), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, after numerous complaints received on the toxic work environment, is a point in question how an ombud can be perceived as overstepping its mandate. Had the complaints been tested through an internal investigation, UCT would not have faced governance challenges.

University ombud’s role is communicative in nature and include strategies such as active listening, giving hearing to feelings, defusing rage, giving advice, creating problem-solving and developing options, investigating facts findings and mediation.  These are approaches that will be needed to defuse any tensions before it escalated.