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van der Walt, Lucien (2003) University restructuring: whose gain, whose pain, whose transformation?. Talk to the Combined Staff Association(COMSA), University of Durban-Westville : -.

Mergers, rationalisation, cost-efficiency, and outsourcing have become the terms defining the "transformation" of the universities in post-apartheid South Africa. For all their sound and fury, recent debates on the changing institutional landscape of post-apartheid universities have been deafeningly silent about the fate of university workers- academics, administrative staff and support service workers. Yet it is these workers, these "ordinary people," who have borne the brunt of the neo-liberal restructuring of the sector.


It is striking how rapidly the first post-apartheid government, elected in
April 1994 and dominated by the African National Congress (ANC), has moved
to adopt a neo-liberal policy framework. Since 1994, a series of shifts in
the direction of the free market model- privatisation, budget cuts and
fiscal austerity, economic liberalisation and labour market flexibility
have taken place, culminating in the 1996 Growth, Employment and
Redistribution programme (GEAR), which spelled out its intentions for
higher education quite clearly. On the one hand, there was, GEAR argued, a
"need to contain expenditure through reductions in subsidisation"; on the
other, there must be "greater private sector involvement in higher

Education Minister Kader Asmal's stated aim - the "creation of new South
African higher education institutions based on the values and principles of
non-racism and democracy"- has been married to a commitment, in short, to
budget cuts and liberalisation. With subsidies falling, and, at the same
time, being restructured to reward rationalisation and income generation,
the universities have split into two.


The Historically Advantaged Institutions (HAIs) have seen their income
from the State fall - Wits University's funding, for example, fell by
almost a third from 1995 to 2000 - and have become bent on transforming
themselves into "market universities," raising additional income by
focussing on fee-paying students, on expanding course offerings, and on
contract-based research. The increase in student numbers through expanded
course offerings - by distance education, by night classes, by short
courses- has been a stricter recovery of student fees, shifting the student
profile away from poorer working class, mainly African, students towards
middle-class learners. Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs) have
struggled, on the whole, to simply survive: with a general trend to falling
student numbers, a poorer student body, and little to "market," they have
focussed on demanding more government support.

It is against the backdrop of this HDI crisis - and of the drive to
further reduce funding to the universities - that the State has refused to
increase funding, choosing instead, from 2002 onwards, to stress the need
to reduce the number of universities and technikons from 36 to 21 through
mergers and closures. And it is against the backdrop of the restructuring
of the sector that working conditions and job security at all the
universities has worsened - a process bound to accelerate with the mergers.


Research has shown that there has been a usurpation of traditional areas
of academic authority by an expansive and increasingly powerful
administration through the application of private sector management models.
Coupled to the new focus on profitable core business has been a
rationalisation of less (financially) viable disciplines - especially in
the social sciences and humanities-, the increased surveillance of work and
productivity, and a growing salary gap between academics and management.
Workload has increased, and there has been growing competition between
academic staff, increased job insecurity, and divisions between full-time
staff and a growing cohort of contract staff. This has been coupled to
administrative restructuring, with the redirection of administrative
services towards the needs of management, rather than the teaching and
research process. Hence, the increased stress on reporting, on justifying
jobs, on justifying courses by their value-added, to an unsympathetic

A parallel process of restructuring has taken place amongst support service
staff- the manual and menial workers who keep the universities running -
such as caterers, cleaners, security, and maintenance. A survey in 2001
found that all public sector universities had outsourced at least one
support service function, and that 18 out of 21 institutions had done so
since 1994: for many HAIs, this was apart of a general drive to focus on
the "core" business of marketisation; for most HDIs it was a response to
financial crisis. And at least 5,000 out of a total of 15, 779 support
service jobs were lost as support functions were contracted to private
companies. Whilst HDIs were well represented amongst the universities that
cut the most jobs - the University of Fort Hare, for instance, shed 1,000 -
even HAIs undertook large-scale retrenchments. The University of the
Witwatersrand cut 623 posts, and Potchefstroom over 400. Workers reemployed at outsourcing companies have been subject to dramatically lower wages, a loss of benefits, insecure contracts, more intense workplace discipline, and have undergone a general deunionisation. In only 2 out of 17 cases for which information was available, did unions have a recognition agreement with at least one outsourcing company. As one worker said: "We work harder, we do more work and there is tighter control by the supervisors." To this we could add that these workers also eat less and avoid going to a doctor if possible.


The destructive logic of the situation is clear. Universities compete with one another for State support and for other types of income. Academics compete with one another for jobs, and with other components of the
university for funds. Administrative staff struggle under new and increased workloads, and find themselves under the direct control of management that restructures their jobs. Support service workers compete for jobs and bite the bullet of low-wage, no-benefit, work in preference to the invisible prison of unemployment. And each group of workers competes with one another for resources, whilst resenting the increased pressures of the job and the increased demands of the students and the management. In this situation, the danger of mergers becomes crystal clear. The intellectual clichés which are used to justify mergers- sharing resources, building on strengths, and so on and so forth- and the political rhetoric-
that mergers are transformation, are redistribution - disguise a more sinister process. As part of the neo-liberal agenda, funding for education, and especially higher education, falls, whilst the higher education sector is opened to the market and the universities become increasingly indistinct from corporations themselves. The staff, the poorer students, the research and the teaching- all fall by the wayside.

That is why it is imperative for the unions to organise to defend
university workers - all university workers- and to replace the divisions
between the staff components with unity and solidarity. That is why it is
imperative to organise to reshape the universities, to pose against the
model of the market university and the neo-liberal State the alternatives
of the popular university and the social rights of working and poor people.
That is why it is important to unify, to move away from being victims, to
becoming masters of our own destiny. That is why campaigns and actions,
university solidarity and solidarity between the staff and the students
within and between the universities is so vital. It is only with solidarity
that the neo-liberal offensive can be halted, and the outlines of a new
world - for a "new world is possible"- will become visible

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