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The Academic Staff Association (Asawu) of Wits University  is concerned about the numbers of unfilled vacancies and academic staff retention at the institution.

The staff association said it was also alarmed by a trend of replacing permanent academic posts with short term contracts.

“We believe that this undermines the quality of teaching and reduces research output at Wits. Asawu opposes this ‘casualisation’ of the academic body. We believe that the failure of Wits management to address questions of competitive salaries, to provide adequate funds for research, and to ensure that there are smoothly functioning support systems in place underlies the loss of good academics that have left Wits,” said Asawu president David Dickinson.

Dickinson also said there has been a consistent surplus in the salaries budget at the university of approximately R100 million. Asawu further maintains that the former deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations seemed “more interested in running a budget surplus than building the university as a place of teaching, learning and research”.

Wits denies Asawu’s allegations

Outgoing vice chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa denied the allegations. He said that the number of personnel in temporary and acting positions is not due costs saving.  “The university has no policy of deliberately hiring staff on a temporary basis nor has the university been in the position to budget for a surplus budget,” Nongxa told Wits Vuvuzela.

In setting the annual personnel budget, Nongxa said faculties are allocated a personnel budget and they can choose how to spend it. “There is no university policy on how they use that budget, other than not to overspend,” he said.

On the allegations of the university’s budget surplus, deputy vice chancellor of finance and operation Professor Tawana Kupe said that there was never a year when R100 million surpluses were accrued from saving salary costs.

Annonymous blog and alleged economics staff shortages

According to an anonymous blog titled 11th Floor Senate house the Wits Economics department is in “crisis”. The blog alleged a shortage of academic staff and claimed that postgraduate students have assumed the role of lecturers. “There are too few senior academics … they also lost their best academic last year,” according to the blog.

Head of Economic and Business Sciences faculty Professor Judy Backhouse said that the faculty is short of lecturers in some disciplines but denied this was the case with Economics.

“We have had very high enrolments of postgraduates this year, but not in economics. All our classes are taught by staff in the school or appropriately appointed sessional lecturers. Some of the associate lecturers are currently studying for their masters degrees, but most of the staff have masters degrees and 42% of our lecturers have PhDs. We are careful to assign junior staff only to courses that they are qualified to teach,” Backhouse said.