JOHANNESBURG – Rhodes University on Friday moved to dispel any suggestions that it was about to retrench staff owing to its financial difficulties – this after an earlier report based on an internal memorandum speculated on the possibility of job loses.
The internal memo from the institution to staff members issued on Wednesday said the university was under financial strain and was facing critical choices.
However, spokeswoman for Rhodes University, Veliswa Mhlophe, said it was premature to begin to speculate about retrenchments at the University based on the internal memorandum.
Mhlophe said what the memorandum sought to highlight was a need for continued internal engagement and creative thinking by stakeholders, not to to create a volatile situation and instil fear about job losses.
“The memorandum is part of regular information updates, which the University issues from time to time. This has been the case over the last 18 months to inform internal stakeholders about the financial state of the University and other matters,” Mhlophe said.
“The Labour Relations Act provides clear guidelines about retrenchment processes, which the University respects. The University has been loyal to its staff over the years and has engaged in all negotiations in good faith and with transparency in the context of the unique socio-economic situation of Makana Municipality.”
The memo said the dire financial situation was due to the fact that over the past two years, the higher education sector in the had been grappling with the serious impact of declining subsidies and a combination of other financial pressures.
It also said the financial challenge of the university was compounded by a high ratio of staff costs, heavy reliance on student fees and significant maintenance backlogs which can no longer be deferred.
Further exacerbating the financial situation at the university was the wage negotiations with organised labour that have deadlocked following a rejection by the unions of a five percent revised salary offer.
However, Mhlophe said the memo presented a number of austerity measures that the university was implementing to mitigate financial risk.
These include ongoing work and discussion around the academic size and shape needed for the university to become financially sustainable and a review of support operations with a view to reducing costs.
The memo proposes an improved approach to identify and harness alternative sources of income, also putting a partial moratorium on support staff vacancies, on re-grading of support staff posts, and a moratorium on non-essential consultancy contracts.
Limitations on travel, accommodation and catering, as well as cancellation of year-end functions have also been suggested.
“We encourage members of the media to contact the University Communications and Advancement Division for comment when reporting on critical and sensitive issues as required by the Press Code,” Mhlophe said.
“This is particularly required where supposition is the basis for reporting.”
This article appeared on ENCA.com on 8 April 2017