The challenges of working and studying at a satellite campus : a case study of the Riverside Campus of the Durban University of Technology
Gumede, Dumsile Cynthia
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Universities are seen to be facing a turbulent storm of challenges, demands, environmental changes, and facilitated thrust in the midst of economic meltdown. The environments in which these institutions are operating are becoming increasingly tempestuous, and competitive which makes leadership crucial as they continuously interface with the local and wider environments. At its best leadership is proximate, contextual and distributed especially in the case of complex organisations like universities. Changes and institutional mergers that took place worldwide two decades ago diffused to the south of Africa as well. These mergers resulted in the formation of mega universities and universities with satellite or branch campuses. If the trend continues with branch campuses spreading even into foreign countries, it will lead to growth and even more leadership complexity. This study was conducted in order to establish the challenges that are faced by staff and students at satellite campuses of universities using the Riverside Campus of the Durban University of Technology as a case study. Literature on leadership and management theories, leadership in higher education and organisational structures was reviewed in order to contextualise the study. A sample of the executive leadership of the university used as a case study was interviewed in order to determine their attitudes towards the current organisational structure. Data was also gathered from the academic and administrative staff at the satellite campus used for the study as well as first and third year students at the same campus using questionnaires. This study is significant because it feeds into the year-long study that was initiated by the Leadership Foundation on Higher Education and conducted from 2010 and finished in July 2011 by the Hull University’s Scarborough Campus that was aimed at determining the most effective relationship between the centre (mother campus) and its satellite campuses, identifying tensions between the strategic and operational levels and making students’ experience consistent. The whole project was undertaken to arrive at a better understanding of the challenges of managing two or more campuses with particular emphasis on strategic matters, organisation, leadership and management structures. The study discovered that there were leadership challenges which were not unique to the university and campus used as a case study, but similar to those identified during literature review. Issues such as lack of leadership and strategic direction, diverse cultures, incomplete merger, isolation, inequitable distribution of resources and lack of development were identified as challenges that needed to be addressed. The study advances as original contribution the ‘Radial Structure’, which was greatly inspired by the natural movement, flow and distribution of energy and information in fractals. This structure ensures equity across all campuses irrespective of size and location. In the radial structure as suggested and implied by the name the corporate division is the source of energy in the form of vision, mission, goals, strategy, and resources which it disburses or radiates equitably across all the campuses. The corporate division is not attached to any campus, but it is a pole that provides an anchor for all the campuses. The energy or feedback is also radiated back to the corporate office from the campuses in the form of student fees, research output from staff and students, pass rates, information to aid decision-making and so on. The relationship that was established between the radial structure and the regression model developed from the responses of the students and theory, was that each campus should be fully-equipped with all the services that the users require for the campus to be fit for purpose. The radial structure would also allow for student services to grow and develop as the campus grows. Like any organisational structure, the radial structure could be adjusted to suit the needs of any university with satellite campuses. The organisational structure would also have to be revisited and adjusted as the needs of the university change. In essence the structure is aimed at ensuring that there is no leadership vacuum at any of the satellite campuses of a university.