Thousands of WSU degrees may not be valid

Walter Sisulu University graduates and current students have been studying courses that are not registered or accredited by the Council on Higher Education.
Walter Sisulu University graduates and current students have been studying courses that are not registered or accredited by the Council on Higher Education.
Image: FILE

Thousands of degrees awarded by Walter Sisulu University (WSU) may be invalid.

Graduates and current students have been studying courses that are not registered or accredited by the Council on Higher Education.

The university has allowed students to graduate despite their programmes being red-flagged by the university’s registrar as “questionable and not in good standing”, but DispatchLIVE’s questions were met by stony silence from the institution, which refused to comment.

A total of 28 programmes offered by WSU, including master’s degrees awarded to medical specialists, are allegedly not registered or accredited.

An internal letter addressed to the university’s leadership, leaked to DispatchLIVE, asserted that 2,080 students, between 2019 to 2021, graduated from non-accredited programmes.

There are also 7,637 students in the same period who are believed to have been registered at the university under the non-accredited programmes.

DispatchLIVE can reveal that in October 2021, the university’s registrar recommended in an internal email that 12 postgraduate students should not be allowed to graduate because of the non-compliant status of their programmes.  

The programmes were the advanced diploma in internal auditing (two students) offered on the Butterworth campus; bachelor of science honours in zoology (five students) offered in Mthatha; master of medicine in anaesthesiology (two students) offered in Mthatha, and master of medicine in obstetrics and gynaecology (three students) also offered in Mthatha.

The students graduated last November.

In a letter to vice-chancellor Professor Rushiella Songca and deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs and research, Professor Mzikayise Binza, WSU’s registrar Dr Lulamile Ntonzima sought their guidance on the matter.

“VC [vice-chancellor], I believe there will never be a correct time to tackle this problem. And I am not comfortable to issue certificates, sign them and pass them to you for your signature when I know they are not in good standing and/or are questionable. Please advise,” Ntonzima wrote.

The registrar said the programmes should be deactivated from the university’s system.

“These students must not be allowed to graduate until the programme status is cleared up. [There should be] no issuing of certificates ... Campus management must give leadership,” Ntonzima wrote.

He also recommended that current registered students be informed of the situation.

“The programme must stop any form of intake until the programmes’ good standing is retained. Damage control plan by the department and faculty must be developed ... 

“Financial implications must be established, filed and communicated to the relevant structures (internally and externally) where applicable,” Ntonzima wrote.

On the advanced diploma in internal auditing offered in Butterworth, Ntonzima wrote that its Council on Higher Education (CHE) accreditation status was questionable.

WSU’s council chair and convocation president advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi referred the Dispatch to Ntonzima and Songca.

In a letter by Songca, addressed to the WSU community last month, the vice-chancellor said: “I reiterate we are not here to prejudice students or the institution’s reputation.”

The advanced diploma in internal auditing is not offered at Butterworth this year.

At the WSU’s Buffalo City campus, the questionable programmes, in which students graduated and others are currently registered for, are: advanced diploma in internal auditing, advanced diploma in journalism, and PGCE in senior phase and further education.

On the Mthatha campus the programmes are: bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery; bachelor of social science; bachelor of science honours; bachelor of social work; BSc honours in computer science; BSc honours in zoology; PhD in natural sciences; master of medicine (M Med) in diagnostic radiology; M Med in family medicine; M Med in obstetrics and gynaecology.

There are also a  M Med in orthopaedic surgery; M Med in paediatrics and child health; M Med in psychiatry; M Med in paediatric surgery; MSc in chemical pathology; MSc in physiological sciences; MSc in medical microbiology; postgraduate diploma (PG Dip) in library and information science;  PG Dip in chemical pathology; PGCE in senior phase and further education (humanities); PGCE in senior phase and further education (languages); PGCE in senior phase and further education (science).

A higher education expert who cannot be named said: “Non-accreditation of programmes is very serious. It is like a retailer selling rotten meat to customers.”

“Offering programmes that are not approved by CHE and the department of higher education & training (DHET) is like offering bogus qualifications.

“It is gross negligence and gross misconduct for whoever is responsible for that academic enterprise.

“It is the same as committing fraud because those students paid for those qualifications that have not been approved. Non-accreditation means offering programmes not approved by CHE,” the expert said.

Another academic who asked not to named said the implications of an institution of higher learning offering non-accredited programmes were quite severe.

“We are talking about the reputational damage of the institution itself and the students who studied under those programmes, because their qualifications would amount to nothing.

“Literally this is a waste of resources because institutions like NSFAS have funded these students.

“It’s gross negligence and poor leadership from the side of the university. Someone needs to account for this,” the academic said.

Questions were sent to WSU’s spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo on Monday.

Tukwayo indicated that Ntonzima was attending meetings and would not be able to respond to the Dispatch.

A deadline for response was extended for the university to respond on Tuesday.

Tukwayo called DispatchLIVE on Tuesday and said: “On behalf of the university, I am not going to respond to your questions. I believe the Dispatch has got the story already. Speak to CHE and DHET.”

WSU’s student representative council president Bathandwa Mangisa refused to comment and referred the Dispatch to WSU management.

CHE had not responded at the time of going to print on Tuesday.

DHET spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said they would consult with WSU and CHE before commenting on the matter. 

DA Student Organisation’s representative in WSU’s Mthatha campus, Khaya Jozana, called on the DHET to investigate the matter.

“Parents send their children to universities so that they study and change the circumstances of their families. Those who are responsible for this should be forced to account,” Jozana said.

EFF student command’s WSU representative Mvelo Abenta said: “We are not aware of that but we are not shocked.

“There is a lot of laziness among staff members at WSU. We should be expecting accountability on this but I will not be surprised if there is none.”

In 2017, CHE announced the withdrawal of accreditation to WSU’s law degree. The degree was again offered in 2019 after the university’s application for re-accreditation.



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