The transformation of the South African higher education sector through mergers - the case study of the Durban University of Technology
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Since the advent of democracy in 1994, South African society has been undergoing a rapid transformation. By the time the second democratic elections had come around, the focus had turned to transforming and restructuring the higher education sector. Mergers became an instrument in the hands of the Government to restructure and configure the higher education landscape. Mergers are not new and have been used by many countries to transform or restructure their higher education sector. However, comparison with higher education mergers in other countries would point to the most ambitious change programme ever undertaken in recent times, especially given the large scale of mergers and incorporations that were planned for the South African higher education sector. The Durban University of Technology merger which took place in 2002 preceded the main wave of the Government decreed mergers that took place in 2004 and in 2005. This thesis focuses on contributing to the knowledge of higher education mergers by investigating higher education mergers in South Africa from a micro as well as macro perspective. At a micro level the study undertaken is a case study of the Durban University of Technology (DUT), the first merged higher institution in the country, while from a macro perspective, an examination into the impact that mergers have had on the transformation of the higher education sector. This second part has been undertaken through a perception survey of staff at merged institutions. The emphasis is on providing a detailed analysis of DUT merger in terms of its problems, pitfalls and peculiarities. It covers an examination of the processes, procedures, practices and trials and tribulations when two or more higher education institutions merge. This study is guided by two central research questions. The first is: What can be learned about higher education mergers as examined through the Durban University of Technology (DUT) case study? The second question, whether higher education mergers have been successful or otherwise in South Africa? In particular this question seeks to elicit whether the broader goals and objectives of higher education transformation have been or are being achieved or accomplished through mergers in the sector. The literature review emphasized a conceptual understanding of higher education mergers, merger processes and steps. The review also touches on the limitations and gaps in higher education literature when examined from a iv South African perspective. In particular a detailed study of the South African merger policy development was undertaken. The DUT merger experience allows one to draw a distinction between what is termed the technical merger issues and the soft issues. Technical aspects of a merger would simply be those aspects that have to be done to ensure the physical merger of two or more institutions. In a sense it is the soft issues which shape the merger process. These soft issues largely relate to people, the consultation with stakeholders, the negotiations and the cultural dimensions. Despite the assumption that voluntary mergers are generally easier to negotiate and execute because of the perceived greater involvement of stakeholders, the DUT case provides no evidence to support this position. If anything, the DUT merger although voluntary was at best difficult and beset with people and human relations problems. The findings from the case study point to the following: Government initiated mergers (forced mergers) are less likely to failure because of a greater national agenda; that an all new embracing style of leadership is needed when institutions undergo great changes such as through a merger; that where trade unions exist they will become powerful forces if people management issues are neglected or dealt with poorly during the merger. A genuinely co-operative and consultative process is the way to go; that to overcome past cultural differences a new cultural identity must be established early in the merger by sharing the new vision and mission of the new entity; that mergers could be understood and managed in three distinct phases, which are, the pre-merger phase, the integration phase and the consolidation phase. Equally there are a number of merger steps. By reviewing the processes, procedures and practices of the DUT merger, a model has been developed to understand how mergers take place. In respect of the perception survey of merged institutions, respondents saw some benefits accrue to the academic goals and there were some efficiency gains. More students came into the higher education system. Not many were complementary about their state of physical resources including teaching and learning facilities. Some even felt that teaching and learning were set back during the merger period and this is backed up by key statistics for example like pass rates and dropout rates. Given the difficulty with the softer issues in mergers, much of the blame seems to have been directed at Management and Leadership. Nearly 50% of respondents felt that mergers did not result in high quality Management, while a slightly lower percentage of 42% thought that v mergers did not help establish high quality Councils. Many thought that their governance structures and systems were also weakened. Mergers are complex and it invariably affects the entire institution. It requires careful planning and preparation, inclusivity and a developmental approach to mergers. It also requires effective leaders to manage change of such magnitude. These are the ingredients to ensuring successful higher education mergers.
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