Sunday 7 May 2017

Moran report on "Managerialism"







Commissioned by the Senate Executive Committee
and the Academic Heads of Departments Working Group

 21 JUNE 2007

* Members: Ms J. du Toit, Professor J. P. Groenewald, Emeritus Professor V. C. Moran.
Directed by: Professor C. de la Rey and Professor A. R. Duncan.




 SUMMARY .............................................................................................................................................................  2


PAST AND PRESENT .........................................................................................................  8

SECTION 3.   ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS   ...................................................................................... 14

SECTION 4.   ENHANCING AND SUPPORTING HEADS OF ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS: ................................................................................................................  21

INCOMING HEAD OF DEPARTMENT  ..................................................  22

ACADEMIC  DEPARTMENT ..........................................................................  27

ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS   .....................................................................   28

A MATTER OF RECIPROCAL RESPONSIBILITY   .............................  30

                        AND A PROPOSED 'STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE'   ................................................   37

BIBLIOGRAPHY  .............................................................................................................................................   39

APPENDICES A – H (CONTAINED IN A SEPARATE FOLDER)  .......  Appendices pages 1 - 32


In June 2006, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Senate Executive Committee approved the establishment of a small Task Group to review the role of academic heads of departments (HoDs) in the context of their perceived problems of administrative overload exacerbated by complicated departmental structures.  The Task Group was asked to make recommendations to enhance the ability of and opportunities for HoDs to fulfil their leadership and administrative roles in the University. Rather than concentrating on an exhaustive compilation of the problems facing HoDs, the Task Group was required to pay special attention to expedients that might rectify or alleviate the problems, and particularly on practical mechanisms ('fixes') for their implementation in the short- and long-term. Led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor de la Rey, in close consultation with the Academic Heads of Departments Working Group (AHWG), the necessary preliminaries started almost immediately to determine the composition and Terms of Reference for the Task Group, which began its formal investigations in mid-December 2006. An important component of this work was face-to-face (and a few telephonic) interviews with 62 senior people representing a broad spread of opinion at UCT.

In this report, the Task Group:

o   Confirms that the University can contribute fully to the social and economic development of South Africa only if it is internationally competitive.  The UCT "Statement of Values" requires that the institution "Promotes academic excellence and the attainment of the institutional goal of becoming a world-class African University".  In this respect the University is only reasonably placed, and there is considerable room for improvement.
o   Confirms that the primary responsibility and function of the University is to ensure that the number and demographic mix of its graduates contribute to the country's needs and that the qualifications earned by its undergraduate and postgraduate students have increasing value and currency, locally and globally.
o   Elaborates on the assertion that the above objectives can be realised only if the academic departments in the University are functioning optimally, which in itself is possible only if the HoDs pursue a clear plan for the development of teaching and research in their respective disciplines and only if they are willing, motivated and effective academic leaders, managers, and administrators.  Presently the performance of the majority of the academic departments is perceived by many at UCT as being sub-optimal and it is common cause that many, but not all, of the HoDs at the institution are, for various reasons, reluctant to do the job, demoralised and frustrated.
o   Elaborates on matters which impinge on the roles and functions of HoDs including particularly their administrative loads, and the issue of the size, structure, and complexity of departments and on the fragmentation of academic structures, all of which exacerbate these difficulties. The literature indicates that many of the issues and problems facing HoDs at UCT are shared by other medium-sized or large universities in other parts of the world.
o   Recognises, that without the concerted will of the University at large to acknowledge the centrality of academic departments as the cornerstone of the institution, and to bring academic departments and HoDs back into the main stream of the University's focus and activities, the University cannot enhance the value of its degrees, nor can it achieve its mission. 

The report by the Task Group also comprises an explanation of and motivation for a four-part plan aimed at facilitating and improving the status, morale and effectiveness of the HoDs, including:

(i)         The initiation of rigorous reviews of UCT’s academic departments (or of cognate groups of departments) by international and local experts, as an essential preliminary to the appointment of incoming HoDs. 
(ii)        The notion that reviews by teams of international and South African experts would complement existing internal self-review procedures and quality controls and be aimed at identifying the strengths and weaknesses and the role of the departments, including recommendations for mergers or other structural alterations, and particularly assist the University, and its constituent academic departments, in planning for the future.
(iii)       The establishment of top-level search, selection and appointments procedures for choosing the most suitable persons as HoDs, which are based on the existing recruitment and selection procedures for professorial posts, with an emphasis on the search functions of the process and on wide advertisement of these posts internally, nationally and internationally. The appointment procedures would help to ensure that the incoming HoDs are given the initial support that they require to enable them to implement plans for the development of their departments, to enhance their teaching and research, and to ensure that they are informed of the full expectations of the University before they take up their appointments.
(iv)             The development of a suite of actions in which administrators and academics accept 'reciprocal responsibility' for modifying existing practices to ensure that the HoDs are given sustained support to advance their performance and that of their academic departments. In the same regard, to ensure that the academic sector at large accepts its responsibilities in providing full support for HoDs and for improving the functioning and effectiveness of the academic departments themselves, especially through constructive well-motivated proposals for change and improvement, which would be routed through the relevant committees and the Senate. 

Detailed recommendations from the Task Group are provided in respect of all these issues. These suggested plans of action were discussed in broad principle with the great majority of the interviewees and gained their support.  

In addition, the Task Group recommends a concerted University-wide 'Strategic Objective' to understand the components of and to contribute in all its administrative and academic functions to the improvement of the international status of the institution, thus to fulfil the University's potential and to serve its students and the people of South Africa better. After this recommendation came to mind, during the latter part of the interviewing process, it was discussed with about half of the interviewees and also gained their support.

There is still a window of opportunity, but in another few years it may well be too late for the University to make real progress in catching up with its international competitors and in improving its chances of becoming a truly world-class African university.  Decisive, determined and concerted action is needed now, and the hope is that the Task Group's report will have provided some constructive suggestions in this regard that find favour and that are implemented by the University.



Following a meeting of the UCT Senate Executive Committee (SEC) held on 12 June 2006, a Task Group was set up to review matters pertaining to the HoDs.  The composition, full Terms of Reference, purpose and modus operandi of the Task Group, are contained in Appendix A.

Events relevant to the establishment of the Task Group

From 8 November 1999 until 30 June 2001, the University was involved in an appraisal of its management systems through the AIMS project, an acronym for "Audit and Integration of Management Systems". Because the focus was on ‘management systems’, much of the activity during the AIMS Project 'missed out on the action at the coal-face' i.e. on matters pertaining to the academic departments. Two reports emanating from the AIMS project are of interest because they deal in part or in whole with the roles of Deans in relationship to HoDs (Shattock 2000; Corder and Reddy 2000). 

However, one report (Oliver-Evans 2001) conducted under the aegis of the AIMS project is of direct and central importance in the work of the Task Group, and is entitled "Leadership and Management Development Project: Draft report on interview findings with academic heads of department". The Oliver-Evans report comprises 87 pages, and provides full details and analyses of the issues and problems facing HoDs at that time.  Much of the text in that report consists of verbatim transcripts from interviews with each of the, then, 61 HoDs at UCT, who could be relatively easily identified, and thus the document had a very limited circulation. Because of the critical importance of the Oliver-Evans report as a starting point for the work of the Task Group, the document has been retyped and reformatted omitting the verbatim comments, and the abridged version is attached as Appendix B.

For the past five years (since 2002), the Vice-Chancellor and other top executives have led annual one- or two-day workshops for academic HoDs to consider the problems of leadership, management and administration of an academic department and the ways in which the HoDs could be supported to make their job simpler and more effective. In 2003, a group chaired by a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, representing all the faculties including the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), was formed and called the Academic Heads of Departments Working Group (AHWG), and this group met subsequently several times a year.  The recorded outputs from the HoDs' workshops are voluminous and daunting in their detail: at the academic HoDs' workshop held in September 2005, for example, about 350 bulleted points, grouped into 31 separate 'Themes' were discussed.  The Task Group has looked carefully at the outputs from these HoD workshops and notes that most, if not all, of the matters discussed on those occasions were rehearsals, elaborations or variations on the various points and issues that had been raised in the Oliver-Evans report.  The HoD workshops and the proceedings of these meetings have undoubtedly been important in keeping these matters current, in encouraging incoming and established HoDs to discuss mutual problems, and in helping HoDs to cope with their multiple tasks.  Remarkably, in spite of the importance of these proceedings, very few of the matters discussed seem to have been taken further through formal proposals to appropriate committees, so that relatively little has been done in practice to alleviate the problems experienced by HoDs or to shorten the lists of matters that need to be dealt with.

In fact the levels of complexity and the demands on HoDs have increased, for example: (i) the performance based pay system (Rate for Job – 'RFJ') started in 2003; (ii) the planning and budgeting process has become considerably more onerous; (iii) the reporting requirements have increased (and the HoDs as 'owners' or 'holders' of the raw data are inevitably heavily involved); and (iv) the new (2006) PeopleSoft student information system is involving HoDs and academics generally in further challenges as the 'bedding down' process continues, at least until the end of 2008.  On the positive side, academic remunerations and HoD allowances have been substantially increased, and, further to discussions in the AHWG, 'developmental interactive workshops' have been introduced in 2007 for academic HoDs to help them deal with such matters as performance and pay systems, departmental missions and goals and the role of mentoring in academic departments.

The modus operandi of the Task Group

The Task Group started its work in earnest in December 2006 by reading texts on the issue of headship of academic departments at other institutions around the world, although the literature is particularly skewed towards precedents in the United States.  The books that were studied by the Task Group (Conway 1991; Gmelch and Miskin 2004; Leaming 2003; Lees 2006; Sporn 1999; and Tucker 1984), although they were obviously interesting and informative, largely reinforced the conclusion that the majority of the problems experienced at UCT in respect of the role of HoDs are in general terms not unusual in medium-sized and large universities around the world.  The texts are mostly descriptive (i.e. containing relatively few hard data that can be compared readily with those available from UCT).  It became clear that there is no tailor-made set of precedents at some other institution that can simply be 'plugged into' the UCT system.

Similarly, the preliminary quests for readily comparable data from other South African universities proved difficult and confounding.  For example, as others have undoubtedly observed, looking at the relative budgets for the administrative functions of a university in comparison to that for the academic sector raises fundamental ambiguities.  Even more focussed- comparisons of, say, departmental budgets and staff/student ratios for specific sample departments at different South African universities, which were part of the original plan for investigation by the Task Group, also suggest ambiguities that are more likely to produce 'red herrings', than to be illustrative and helpful.  Thus it was that the Task Group, quite early on, decided to take a more productive tack. UCT has evolved its own unique way of doing things, and the Task Group has to seek solutions that will fit into the established practices and special character of the institution.  The Task Group has attempted to do this.

Much of the formative basis for the Task Group report came from face-to-face interviews (although a few telephonic interviews were held) with 62 senior people at UCT (see Appendix C). In every case these involved only one interviewer. In a few cases small groups of up to three interviewees were involved.  The interviews were mostly held in the interviewee's own office or 'home territory' and sparked frank, interesting, stimulating and often exhilarating discussions.  Confidential notes were kept of each interview (which lasted on average just over one and a half hours) and the notes were annotated with corrections and explanatory notes shortly after each interview.

The Task Group report

The Task Group report applies to all 60 recognised academic departments at UCT (see  ‘Authorities and Information of Record’ - Book 2 in the 2007 UCT Series of Handbooks, pages 17-18) and to their respective HoDs.

Generally, academics do not aspire to do the job of an HoD at UCT.  Oliver-Evans (2001) reported that 70% of the HoDs at that time did not want to do the job – this proportion will certainly have increased latterly.  The majority of HoDs see themselves as overburdened in a thankless job that detracts from their scholarly careers, in which their status, and thus their ability to implement leadership, have been eroded, and for which they receive inadequate support from their administrative and academic colleagues.  Most damaging is the perception that they may have lost the respect of their peers: their colleagues are certainly grateful that the job of HoD is being done, but they are generally not admiring or respectful of the position.

The purpose of the Task Group report is to elaborate on and explain some of these perceptions and to put the role of the HoD into the context of the complicated departmental structures at the University and to make constructive recommendations accordingly (Sections 2 and 3).  However, as specified in the Task Group's Terms of Reference the main purpose of the report is not primarily to recapitulate on circumstances from the past or to document, yet again, the problems of the HoDs (although these matters are, of course, discussed in the report), but rather to look forward and "To place an emphasis in the review, on ways to rectify or alleviate any problems and on practical mechanisms for their implementation, in the short- and long-term".  In this respect, the Task Group has been greatly encouraged by the optimism of those people that were interviewed.  The Task Group has put forward a four-part plan (Section 4) "that may enhance the ability of and opportunities for HoDs to improve and fulfil their administrative and leadership roles in the University".

Lastly, although the matter is somewhat tangential to the Task Group's brief, it is a natural extrapolation of the suggestions in Section 4 that the Task Group should comment on the international status of UCT as an institution, and propose that UCT should adopt measures as a 'Strategic Objective' to improve its international standing (Section 5).

Information and data sources

The UCT Department of Human Resources and the Department of Research and Innovation compiled spreadsheets of information specifically for this report, from which the data in the text and in Table 2.1 (profiles on HoDs) and Table 2.2 (NRF ratings of UCT staff) were derived.

The definitive record and the source of data for counts on the numbers of faculties, departments, and other academic ‘structures’, and on the numbers of academic staff, as detailed in the text and in Tables 3.1, and 3.2, and for counts on the formal qualifications of academic staff in Tables 4.1 and 4.2, is the UCT Handbook Series for 2007 (see bibliography).

The UCT Department of Institutional Planning has compiled a huge data set  on staff and student ‘indicators’, by faculty, but these data, for obvious reasons, have not yet been completed for 2007, and except in one instance do not have the same focus, nor do they directly overlap with the data compiled for this report. The one exception is for information on the ‘highest formal qualification[s]’ of UCT academic staff where discrepancies with the information recorded this report are explained in a footnote to Table 4.1.

The UCT Intranet ( was also an invaluable source of general information about departments and academic staff, and on such aspects as the Minutes of the Senate and of the Senate Executive Committee, over the last five years.

Other sources of information are cited in the text and listed in the bibliography on pages 39-40.

It is important to appreciate that while great care has been taken to ensure that the data presented in this report are as accurate as possible, they will never be incontestable: for example, the exact status and faculty-affiliations of departments are sometimes debatable, and academic staff numbers and particulars are a ‘moving target’. The data are presented to provide evidence of broad trends, and to support suggested courses of action, and not as the ‘last word’ on the exact numbers or percentages.



The Task Group is aware that the preparation of recommendations about the roles and modus operandi of heads of 60 academic departments in such a multi-faceted and extremely complicated organisation as UCT is an exercise that is inherently fraught. The milieu faced by HoDs is different in each department, and spectacularly so across different faculties. The Health Sciences Faculty, for example, faces complexities which are unique to them and completely foreign to their academic counterparts in other faculties.  Some departments run laboratories and field stations, others are partly accountable to professional bodies, and some are more directly involved with societal issues (see Anon. 2006).  Thus, it seems that for any comment offered by the Task Group there will be exceptions and provisos. Nonetheless the Task Group has made an attempt to draw generalities that may be of use to the University as a whole, and the purpose of this section is to provide a background for the recommendations that will be formulated later in this report.

An historical perspective

Some decades ago, at UCT, and elsewhere in many universities around the world, there was often a single professor of a discipline appointed in any one department. That professor was the HoD and held this post permanently. At UCT that situation changed as from May 1972 when permanent HoDs were gradually and mostly replaced by HoDs with shorter terms of office.

In a small minority of departments at UCT (e.g. Medicine, Chemistry, Surveying, English) there was more than one established Chair (Professor).  Gradually, as more and more academics were appointed to full professorships, it became commonplace for two or more professors to be appointed in a department (although this arrangement did not affect the tenure of the incumbent HoD). Previously, in South African universities, the appellation of "Associate Professor" was rare and, as for other posts and appointments at a university, required the special approval of the Minister of Education at the time.  In the mid-1970s under interesting circumstances, a precedent was set that allowed for increased numbers of associate professors to be appointed. Associate professors were appointed at UCT provided they were deemed to be 'worthy of a Chair' in their own right. Following significant changes in policy at the University in the mid-1990s, there were further professorial appointments, and particularly promotions to the rank of professor or associate professor, and, consequently, in any one department, there came to be several professors and associate professors on the academic staff. There are now at least 460 full-time Professors and Associate Professors listed in the six faculty handbooks at UCT, about equal numbers of each, and together comprising about 45% of the entire academic staff complement at the University, and all are eligible for appointment as a head of department. 

Twenty years ago, HoDs at UCT were almost exclusively full professors and were mostly very influential people within the institution. Typically, the foremost scholars and the natural leaders, those with the greatest abilities to lead the development of their respective disciplines at the University, were the HoDs. They were palpably proud to have achieved the status of HoD and they were generally highly respected by staff and students. They were the leaders in their departments and in the University as a whole. No major academic decision, not even by the top executives, could easily succeed without the support of the senior HoDs. Well into the 1980s, HoDs had direct, sometimes preferential and pivotal access to the Vice-Chancellor. Often, with good reason, they regarded themselves as senior to the Deans, and they were rewarded accordingly with equivalent, or better, pay packages. 

As the University administration coped with the increased pace and imperative of imposed and self-generated changes over the past few decades (Scott 2007), the burgeoning administrative tasks, and the repeated rounds of strategic, management and financial planning impinged on the workload of the HoDs and on their efficiency, productivity and morale. It should not be forgotten that academic staff, including HoDs, choose a career at the University because of their dedication to teaching and research in their own special area of interest. They do not become academics because they wish to be administrators, personnel managers and financial planners (areas in which they often have no natural aptitude, training, or experience). 

Over recent years, the prestige of being an HoD and the ability of HoDs to exert academic leadership has declined, and as the time and opportunity for teaching and research was steadily eroded, senior academics opted out of the HoD role (in common with their equivalents in many universities all over the world). Other academics filled the gaps, less from conviction and ambition, mostly reluctantly and more as a signal of loyalty to their departmental colleagues and devotion to their discipline. Through necessity, as more and more senior people, the 'natural leaders', with full professorial rank, bowed out, it became a commonly accepted practice for an associate professor to become the HoD. Up until the early 1990s, HoDs who were associate professors were not admitted as members of the Senate.

There were several other circumstances at UCT over the years that, in retrospect, can be seen as 'tipping points' in the declining status of the HoDs. The first was the appointment of administrative 'Directors' who reported to the top executive officers and replaced Deputy Registrars, who reported to the Registrar. With the passage of time, this cohort of 'Directors' was replaced by 'Executive Directors'. In many important respects, and although matters have improved recently, the Directors and then the Executive Directors began to impinge on and usurp the academic authority of the Deans and of the HoDs, especially in matters of planning, budgeting, departmental expenditure and the appointment of staff.

By the end of the 1990s, administrative influence and authority were further consolidated with the appointment of 'Executive Deans' as part of the administrative team.  In practical terms, the appointment of Executive Directors and then Executive Deans (now more aptly named 'Faculty Deans') inserted two layers of authority between the top executives and the HoDs, with the inevitable consequence, at least in the political and corporate arena, of wresting influence from 'middle managers', in this case the HoDs. Also exacerbating and complicating the tenuous role of the HoD was the introduction of more inter-disciplinary teaching organised into 'Programmes' and the appointment of cross-departmental 'Programme Convenors' which resulted in further ambivalence about the roles of the HoDs themselves. Relatively recently, UCT has worked to obviate this ambivalence and this has served, in part, to confirm the leadership role of the HoDs and thus of the centrality of the academic departments as 'custodians of the various disciplines'. The rise and fall of research entities of various sorts, and of other inter- and intra-departmental entities, without due and detailed attention to the relationship and authority of their directors to the relevant HoDs, is still problematic at UCT and a source of discontent among many HoDs.  

The imperative for increased consultation, democracy and participation, each a laudable requirement in its own right, hugely affected the style of leadership practiced by HoDs. The devolution of a large range of functions to the faculties, in the 1990s, increased the powers of the Dean, of the Dean's Advisory Committee's and the Faculty Board, but in some faculties at least, detracted from the influence of the HoDs. 

Significantly, the major issue for HoDs (at least more recently) has seldom been their salaries. Twenty years ago no special allowances were paid to HoDs, over and above their basic salaries. In the late 1980s, special merit awards for a selected group of high-achieving professors and associate professors were introduced and some HoDs benefited from this dispensation. However, it was only during the last decade or so that special allowances were introduced specifically for HoDs themselves, but this, originally, was a very small token payment. Within the last few years, however, academic salaries at UCT have increased significantly. Furthermore, the additional allowances paid to HoDs have also greatly improved.

The main problems as perceived by HoDs are the greatly increased burdens of administration, their dissatisfaction in some faculties with the size, number and organisation of the academic departments, their loss of prestige and morale, and particularly their loss of authority to non-academic members of the University staff. As a generality, HoDs feel unappreciated, and have come to be regarded (and now regard themselves) as relatively junior functionaries, responding to the increasing demands of the central and faculty administration. It is now often a subject of amusement that anyone would voluntarily accept the position as an HoD at UCT. This is an untenable situation for any academic institution. The main operational entities of the institution, the academic departments, can only function optimally if they are guided by the sustained vision and leadership of an HoD who is also an effective manager and administrator.  

The Vice-Chancellor and the top executives at the University have been well aware of these circumstances, as have the HoDs themselves, of course, but matters are likely to be slow to change unless decisive actions are taken. The top executives are stretched to breaking point keeping the institution functioning. They have long lists of other priorities that need attention. The HoDs themselves, through the AHWG, have articulated their problems and kept their plight on the agenda, but regrettably have failed to elevate their case to the top of the list of University priorities.

A profile of the present cohort of HoDs

While there are undoubtedly a number of departments and HoDs at UCT who are variously dissatisfied with their leadership, administrative and managerial duties and who are reluctantly fulfilling their respective roles, there are a minority of departments that are doing well and which are led by HoDs who are enthused about their position in the University and inspired by their role as academic leaders. A potted profile of the HoDs at UCT is provided in Tables 2.1 and 2.2. The data are largely self-explanatory, but a number of matters deserve some emphasis:

o   About a third (35%) of the HoDs are associate professors or senior lecturers (of which there are only two).  In 2000, only 26% of the HoDs were other-than-full-professors (Oliver-Evans 2001);
o   The present cohort of HoDs, aged at about 53 years, falls into an age-group of academic staff that represents about 19% of the academic staff population.  An older age-group (of 55, or more, years) represents a far larger cohort at about 28% of the academic population.  The data imply that the HoDs are in general younger than their peers who are professors and associate professors (see "Institutional Informational Unit - faculty report" - Table 45);

Table 2.1 Profiles of the heads of academic departments (HoDs) at the University of Cape Town (as at 31 December 2006), not including the Graduate School of Business.

No. and /or %

No. and /or %
39 (66%)
Contract period as HoD:        < 3 years
5 (8%)
Professors – average age
53 yrs
                                                  3 years
23 (39%)
Associate professors 1
19 (32%)
                                                  4 years
6 (10%)
Associate professors – average age
53 yrs
                                                  5 years
21 (36%)
Senior lecturers 1
2 (3%)
4 (7%)
43 (73%)
Average term of an HoD contract:

53 (90%)
2.8 yrs
Served previously as HoD at UCT
13 (22%)
        Engineering & Built Environment                                                
3.3 yrs
Served previously as HoD elsewhere
0 (0%)
                                     Health Sciences
3.6 yrs
HoD contracts renewed once 2
3.1 yrs
HoD contracts renewed > once 2
5.0 yrs
Served as deputy or assistant dean 2
4.9 yrs
Fellows of UCT 3
Av. HoD allowances (x R1000)

Distinguished Teacher Awards 4
Senate attendance by HoDs 5 
           A/Professors & Senior lecturers

1 In 2001, 26% of the HoDs at UCT were associate professors or senior lecturers: 35% in 2007.
2 These data are derived from staff files held in the Human Resources Department.
3 There are 53 professors or associate professors who are Fellows of UCT and who are currently permanently
employed at the University (i.e. 'Sometime Fellows' and 'Life Fellows' are not included).
4 There are 45 Distinguished Teacher Awardees who were selected over the last 10 years (the four HoDs who are
DTAs were selected in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000, respectively): 28 DTAs were selected from 2001-2006.
5 Average Senate attendances by HoDs over a three-year period until the end of 2006.

Av. wt.
NRF rating
Av. wt.
NRF rating
Av. wt.
NRF rating
(i) All rated individuals

(ii) Rated but not HoDs

(iii) Rated HoDs

Table 2.2. Professors (Profs), associate professors (A/Ps) and 'others' i.e. senior lecturers and lecturers at UCT who have a valid rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) (as at 24 January 2007); their respective 'average weighted ratings' (Av. wt.) 1, and the corresponding NRF rating symbols 2 (in brackets). The data are segregated for: (i) all 276 rated individuals; (ii) those who are rated but who are not HoDs; and (iii) for HoDs who are rated by the NRF.

1 The NRF ratings for each of the 276 rated staff at UCT were weighted as follows: A1 = 10; A2 = 9; B1 = 8;
B2 = 7; B3 = 6; C1 and P = 5; C2 = 4; C3 = 3; Y1 = 2; Y2 and L = 1.
2 See text for a general description of the symbols, and the NRF websites for detailed descriptions for each of the
rating categories (Google: "NRF definitions of rating categories").

  • Relatively few (about 22%) of the present HoDs have had previous experience as an HoD before taking up their present contracts;
  • The Commerce and Humanities Faculties tend to appoint HoDs for three years (or sometimes less), the Engineering and the Built Environment and the Health Sciences Faculties usually have three-year HoD appointees, but also a sprinkling of HoDs on four- or five-year contracts.  All of the HoDs in the Faculty of Law and the great majority in the Faculty of Science are on five-year contracts. These facts are a major challenge for some of the Deans and for the University as a whole.  The Task Group identifies with the following observation: "A three-year term [as an HoD] is too short to realise any dream. A three-year term is essentially a guarantee for maintenance of the status quo. Perhaps at a subconscious level, that it the reason for its existence." (Conway 1991);
  • It can be argued that data on the numbers of HoDs who are UCT Fellows or holders of a Distinguished Teachers Award, or have served in higher office in their respective faculties, are indicators that, in general, the HoDs as a cohort are less influential in the University than the cohort of professors and associate professors who are not HoDs.

The levels of remuneration received by HoDs were reviewed in detail by the Task Group which was provided with information on the remuneration packages of all the HoDs.  Remuneration levels are relatively generous and, as has been said, were very seldom raised as an issue of concern during interviews with HoDs.  As part of their remuneration packages professors and associate professors who are HoDs each receive an average annual allowance of about R49 000.  On rare occasions during the interviews the argument was revived about the inadequacies of after-tax-HoD-allowances in that they do not compare favourably with the remunerations that could be gained through external consulting activities. The working environment at the University offers enormous benefits for its academic and other staff (Louw and Finchilescu 2003) and offers a virtually 'risk-free' career.  The lure of bigger money in the corporate sector comes with considerably higher risks.  Thus it is up to individual staff members to decide on their career options, but it seems unreasonable that some expect to have their cake and eat it.

The information in Table 2.2 also requires some explanation. As of 24 January 2007 there were 276 individuals at UCT who had a valid rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF).  Twenty-six (65%) of the 40 professors who are HoDs are rated, on average, on the 'C1/B3' borderline, which in NRF parlance means that they are all well recognised nationally for their research and many of them, in the opinions of some of their peers, have gained considerable international recognition. The remainder of the professors who are not HoDs (113 of them) average out at a higher rating of 'B3/B2', which translates as having somewhat more international recognition by their peers. 

Only six (29%) of the 21 associate professors and senior lecturers who are HoDs, are NRF rated and average out at a 'C1' rating (i.e. the same as that for their associate professorial peers who are not HoDs). As far as NRF ratings and research potential are concerned many HoDs expressed the inequity of their situation in relation to their more senior colleagues who are not HoDs:  they view their appointment as an HoD as detrimental to their research and academic careers. 

Relevant to these observations, one salient point was frequently raised during the interviews with HoDs. The present HoDs, besides their large workloads are operating in a very difficult environment.  They are actually, or are perceived as being relatively junior to other professorial and associate professorial colleagues in their departments and in the faculty, and yet they are expected to provide leadership, and to be decisive and effective managers and administrators.  It is patently difficult to achieve leadership if more senior people in the department are not fully supportive.  It is also difficult to manage the department when senior colleagues are absent 'working at home', or doing less than their fair share of teaching, or 'moonlighting', or where they retreat into their research silos within or outside the departments and leave the HoDs to their own devices. It seems that the circumstances have been stacked to favour "the maintenance of the status quo".

The role and the attributes of successful academic Heads of Department

Many of the people interviewed put forward opinions about the attributes of persons who should be heading academic departments. The opinions expressed were remarkably similar and are easily summarized: first and foremost a head of department should have strong academic credentials, possess inherent leadership and mentorship qualities, and have good management and administrative skills. The notion of an ‘academic manager’ as an HoD is not supported and many of those interviewed regarded the phrase as an oxymoron. According to many of these opinions the essence of academic leadership is the ability to implement a vision for taking the department forward. The successful HoD must be a ‘team leader’.

Very early on in the preparation of the Task Group report it became apparent that the University's expectations of HoDs was, and is, extraordinary.  Gmelch and Miskin (2004) report that: "Lists specific to department chair duties range widely, from the exhaustive listings of 97 activities discovered by a University of Nebraska research team .... to the 54 varieties of tasks and duties cited in Allen Tucker's classic book Chairing the Academic Department ...... to the 40 functions forwarded in a study of Australian department chairs ....".

In November 2004, at the annual UCT academic HoDs workshop, the delegates listed more than 80 "tasks for which an academic HoD is accountable". The AHWG, assisted by others, warmed to this endeavour, took the matter further and by September 2005 at the following HoDs workshop, presented a document entitled, "The Accountabilities and Responsibilities of the Head of an Academic Department at UCT", now listing nearly 180 tasks in "Leadership and People Management", "Teaching", "Student Administration", "Research", "Quality Assurance", "Public Service and Social Responsibility", and "Finance and Revenue Generation". Of these listed responsibilities for the HoD, about 80 were deemed to be suitable for delegation, but for the 100, or so, tasks that remained, the HoD is expected to assume sole accountability.  Clearly, in many respects, expectations and realities are not on convergent paths.

The role of the HoD needs a sharper focus and, in the next Section, the Task Group has attempted to provide this focus by offering definitions and guidelines for the necessary requisites of a viable and successful academic department. The role of the academic HoD and the success or otherwise of an academic department are inextricably bound together and to paraphrase a comment from one of the interviewees: ‘The performance of the HoD dramatically affects the performance of the department as a whole’. 



Definitions and guidelines for evaluating academic departments

The Task Group was required by its Terms of Reference to consider "faculty and departmental organisational structures and functioning, and other institutional arrangements and practices within the University, in as far as these matters may influence the functions and performance of HoDs ....".   In this context, the Task Group was also requested to consider a definition and guidelines for assessing whether or not an academic entity in the University should enjoy a departmental appellation.

Readily available definitions of academic departments in universities, in the literature and on the Internet, are in short supply because it is very difficult to attempt to produce generalities that accurately describe a huge variety of institutional entities and structures.  Interestingly, neither in the South African Higher Education Act of 1997 (Act No. 101 of 1997), nor in the Statues of the University of Cape Town published in the Government Gazette Volume 447 of 20 September 2002 (No. 23837) is a "Department" specifically defined, although it is clear that "The council may, with concurrence of the senate, establish or disestablish departments."

There are recollections that, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the University formulated brief guidelines for what constitutes an academic department at UCT. Repeated attempts to track down these guidelines have failed. Searches in the UCT Archives have not been successful mainly because of the sheer volume of the material, in the Senate Minutes, the Minutes of the General Purposes Committee (the predecessor of the Senate Executive Committee), and in the Principals' Circulars, any one of which could be the source of the information. In any event, after the passage of 25 years or more, it must be necessary to start afresh, and, although it is a bold move the Task Group has attempted a succinct set of definitions and guidelines that describe an academic department and its functions (Recommendation I on the following page).  This recommendation is presented as a tentative starting point.

The definitions and notes in Recommendation I are no more than check lists, which together with the accumulation of documentation that is already available at the University, provide guidelines for a faculty and for the University as a whole, in helping to answer three fundamental questions: 

(i)         Does this entity (the academic department) as it is presently constituted, led, and administered, deliver a high quality product to all the students for which it is responsible;
(ii)        Does it contribute sufficiently, in relationship to its academic staff numbers, to the generation and accrual of high quality scholarship and research; and
(iii)       Does it, as an aggregate of its organisation, structure, its leadership, teaching and research, contribute to an institution that aspires to be internationally competitive and, thus, that measures its status, at least in part, according to published perceptions of its ranking among similarly-sized and resourced role-model universities internationally?

Text Box: Recommendation I

The Task Group recommends that the University adopts a formal set of definitions and guidelines to facilitate debates and decisions on (i) the attributes of a viable academic department; (ii) on the matter of restructuring or mergers of academic departments; and (iii) in order to provide a clear focus for understanding the role and responsibilities of heads of academic departments. The Task Group presents the following as a starting point:
An academic department has to be defined within the context of the locale, ethos, and ambitions of the University and as an extrapolation from the Mission Statement and Statement of Values of the institution.  A functional definition and guidelines for a department must include a commitment to teaching and research, a commitment to improve the quantity [throughput] and the mix, as well as the quality and standards of the students that are admitted and that graduate from the University, and a commitment to function as part of the world-wide community of scholars and to be competitive on the international stage.  Thus:

o	A viable academic department within UCT must exercise responsibility for and be the custodian of an academic discipline (Appendix D) or of a professional scholarly activity, while allowing sufficient flexibility within its mandate to encourage and participate in interdisciplinary programmes and other cross-disciplinary scholarly activities, including those that are in the service of the society in which it is located. 
o	A viable academic department will normally assume responsibility for knowledge production (research) and knowledge transmission (teaching), and  must comprise a sufficient grouping of academics (Appendix D) and their supporting non-academic personnel, to sustain and develop the discipline and to ensure depth, breadth and richness (the latter, by way of variety and contrast) in the material that is transmitted to its undergraduate and postgraduate students in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in the field.
o	A viable academic department must contribute to teaching practices that enhance the throughput of high-quality graduates, which are increasingly representative of all sectors of the population, and which include teaching practices that deal with educational diversity and disadvantage.
o	In aggregate, the academic department must materially contribute to the international acceptability and thus to the value of the degrees offered to its students by the University, and to the enhancement of the international status of the institution as a whole through the sustained production of original, high quality peer-reviewed and cited research (Appendix D).
o	As a totality, the academic department must generate a sufficiently wide reputation for quality scholarship to attract excellent local students and scholars, and those from beyond its national borders and from role-model institutions across the world.
o	In all these respects, a viable academic department must periodically be subjected to and pass critical scrutiny by external South African and international reviewers (see Section 4.1 for details). 


Size, functionality and disciplinary affinities

The SEC on 12 June 2006 decided to ask the Task Group "to propose criteria (that could be faculty/discipline/specific) for departmental organisation, of which size might be one (size being measured in ways including the number of academics in the department, the ratio of staffing rands to student FTE's, the ratio of academic staffing rands to research staffing rands  to technical support rands to administrative/secretarial staffing rands, the academic programmes taught and the nature of research output)".  The substance of these ideas was rephrased and simplified in the Task Group's Terms of Reference (Appendix A).  In addressing these issues the AHWG requested the Task Group to provide illustrative examples of past precedents that may help in an understanding of the issues involved. 

Departments vary greatly in their inherent complexities and enormously in size as measured by their academic staff complements (Table 3.1).  Small departments tend to be relatively expensive in terms of the required administrative effort by the HoD per staff member (poor economy of scale) and of course in terms of monetary considerations. In the Humanities Faculty, for example, there are eight departments each with less than ten members of staff, each with its own HoD and comprising a total of 45 academics, about the same number as the fourth largest department in the Faculty of Health Sciences, which is run by a single HoD (and which is slightly larger that the Faculty of Law in its entirety).   Of course these sorts of comparisons will rapidly and rightly be labelled as fatuous because the departments concerned may represent more or less widely divergent disciplines or sub-disciplines, but the data, nonetheless, do make a point.

Small departments lack resilience in the sense that they are compromised if a staff member is on leave or absent for health reasons, they are less buffered in the case of emergencies or changes in policy at the University, or should student enrolments in the department drop or increase unexpectedly.  The general environment for debate, dissension and the development of new teaching and research ideas is also obviously limited, and on average the students are likely to gain a more restricted view of the subject than they would if the department were part of a larger and more varied enterprise.

Table 3.1 The number of departments in the faculties; which have (i) < 10 academic staff; (ii) > 20 academic staff; (iii) the range in the number of staff in each department; and (iv) the mean number of academic staff. 1, 2

No. of depts
(i) < 10 academic staff 2
(ii) > 20 academic staff
(iii) Range
(iv) Mean no. of academic staff
Commerce 3
 0 (0%)
4 (80%)
12 – 30
1 (17%)
1 (17%)
9 – 21
Health Sciences
0 (0%)
8 (73%)
17 – 66
19 4
8 (42%)
2 (11%)
3 – 23
2 (50%)
0 (0%)
6 – 17
4 (31%)
1 (8%)
4 – 34

1 The information is derived from a sample of 1020 full-time academic staff at UCT who are listed in the 2007 Faculty Handbooks (therefore not including CHED, which does not publish a Handbook), and includes only those in recognised academic departments, i.e. the sample does not include staff that are listed in research institutes, centres, units and the like. Further, the sample includes only those academic staff members who are listed as professors, associate professors, senior lecturers or lecturers. The sample does not include research officers, scientific investigators, technical officers, specialists, etc. and also does not include any members of the academic staff who are listed as part-time, five-eighths, honorary, emeritus, adjunct, visiting, or in any other associated capacity.
2   In the submission by the AHWG discussed by the Senate Executive Committee on 12 June 2006 it was noted that: "There is a lack of a critical mass in some departments.  .... there are currently 18 departments where the academic staff complement is less than 10".  This discrepancy with the data presented in Table 3.1 is because the AHWG included CHED in its counts. 
3   Including the Graduate School of Business.
4 The ‘Department of Information and Library Studies’ (ILS) = the ‘Centre for Information Literacy’ is a cross-disciplinary endeavour, and is thus listed in the 2007 Humanities Faculty Handbooks 9(a) and 9(b) respectively, as part of the Faculty of Humanities and also as part of CHED. In this report, for counting purposes and following various consultations, ILS has been included as a Department in the Humanities Faculty.

Larger departments, the bigger they become, are progressively more economical in respect of the basic administrative effort required by an HoD per staff member, but the complications of managing people escalates enormously, perhaps exponentially, as staff numbers and their interactions increase.  Departments that are too big, when, to use the jargon, the span-of-control for the HoD is too wide, tend to split up into smaller more or less autonomous units within the departments themselves and this brings its own problems for the HoD and for the smooth operation of the department. These matters are currently receiving attention in the Health Sciences Faculty.

In any event, the size of the department per se is not the only issue in deciding on its viability, and it is an unrealistic expectation for the Task Group to offer an opinion on the optimal size of a department in an environment in which the faculties and the departments are so varied and idiosyncratic. However, on the basis of the discussions above, it would seem that departments of less than 6 members of staff, particularly, (and up to 10 or less), or more than about 40 members of staff, are at risk in regard to their viability or manageability, respectively. 

The Department of Astronomy in the Science Faculty at UCT offers an example of the futility of formulaic solutions to the problem of departmental restructuring.  This Department comprises only four members of staff (and there were less in the past), undergraduate student numbers are relatively low and the Department has a generous space allocation.  It seems that any formula, such as one developed from the suggestions of the SEC, would result in the closure of this Department. That would be a very bad academic decision.  In almost all respects the Department of Astronomy fulfils the criteria suggested by the Task Group (Recommendation I above) as indicative of a viable academic enterprise. At any one time the Department is host to top-quality visiting professors and post-doctoral students from some of the leading universities in the world; it co-operates closely with the staff of the South African Astronomical Observatory, in Observatory and at Sutherland, who in combination provide an outstanding grouping of staff for the education of their students; there are currently seven PhD and twelve MSc students registered in the Department; it has always been one of the most, if not the most productive departments in the University in terms of high quality research; and its scholarly activities are known and recognised throughout the world.  It is excellently positioned for the future as a result of South Africa's investment in the South African Large Telescope, and even more so if the development of the 'Square kilometre Array' were to eventuate.  The point is that the Department of Astronomy is far more viable and impressive than any formula could ever adequately express and it is an asset to the University.  Nonetheless, a merger of Astronomy with the Physics Department, for example, must remain on the agenda for regular reassessment.

There are many occasions when mergers and restructuring of departments have brought obvious advantages. To continue with the Science Faculty example, in the late 1970s, the Faculty comprised 19 departments, a number which, over the years, was reduced to 12. The present Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences (which was previously the two departments of Environmental Sciences and Geography), Geological Sciences (previously Geology and Geochemistry), Mathematics and Applied Mathematics (which were previously two departments), Molecular and Cell Biology (previously Microbiology and Biochemistry), and  Chemistry (previously Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry and Analytical Science) all originate from previously merged departments. (Latterly, the Department of Archaeology joined the Science Faculty bringing the number of departments to a total of 13.)

Except for the entirely voluntary merger of Geochemistry and Geology, all of the other mergers were achieved with some reluctance and persuasion, and all required strong interventions by the Dean of the Faculty.  The mergers were mostly complicated by the fears of the academics themselves that their particular sub-discipline would be subjugated as a result of restructuring. This impression was strongly held in the case of Applied Mathematics, for example, which was far smaller than the Department of Mathematics with which it was about to be merged.  In all cases, however, these fears proved to be baseless and the mergers have resulted in departments which are academically richer, which provide a fuller and better education for their undergraduate and postgraduate students, which are politically better placed to compete in the University, and in which savings have been made in terms of administrative time and direct monetary expense.

Recognizing that discipline-specific expert knowledge of the natural affinities (cognateness) of the participating departments is the key to successful mergers, or other departmental restructuring, initiatives in these matters must come from the departments themselves or from the informed and decisive actions of the respective Deans. The Task Group perceives that there are still opportunities in most of the faculties in the University to strengthen the existing structures by the merger of closely cognate departments.
Text Box: Recommendation II

The Task Group recommends that, in bringing about changes in departmental organisation, there should be three points of focus:

o	The strengthening, through mergers, of existing viable departments that share a close disciplinary affinity;
o	On a critical appraisal of small departments (< 10 academic members of staff) with priority attention to those with less than 6 academic members of staff, in respect of:
- the full spectrum of quality-assurance data available;
- the definitions and criteria put forward in this report as a measure of the viability of academic departments; and
- appropriate internal, special or external review procedures; and
o	 On assisting with ongoing assessments by the Health Sciences Faculty of the structural re-organisation of their large departments. 

 Further, the Task Group recommends that the Deans re-affirm their responsibility for the initiation and implementation of any actions that are required to improve and strengthen the structural organisation of the departments within their respective faculties.

Structural complexities and fragmentation

Besides the inherent, and widely differing complexities associated with leadership and management of an academic department, HoDs have to deal with intra- and inter-departmental structural fragmentations within the institution, all of which add inevitably to the burden of the HoDs and are thus of direct relevance in this report.

The data in Table 3.2 provide some measure of faculty complexities at UCT.  Apart from the 60 departments there are at least 184 named academic and research structures.  These structures have names that together almost exhaust all the options in a Thesaurus. The structures vary from large, formally-constituted groupings to small, eclectic and informal ones, some comprising only a few, or even only a single person. Some of these structures have their origins in productive, pragmatically functional, and imminently sensible arrangements; others less so.

Whatever the origins of these complexities and of this fragmentation, from the perspective of the HoDs the existence of more or less powerful intra- or inter-departmental or intra- and inter-faculty 'fiefdoms', often headed by people who are chronologically senior to, or out-rank the HoDs, makes it difficult or even impossible for the HoDs to play their full roles without the patronage of the leaders of these structures. Some of the structures have acquired, through default or planned decision, an independence or quasi-independence and have largely become divorced from the authority and norms of the parent department and of the HoD, particularly if they are self-funded. One consequence is that there is considerable ambivalence about what constitutes a department, and who is the head of the department. The fact that a division or a school or an institute or a centre may have the status of an 'academic department' results in debate about whether or not a 'Director' of a 'Centre' or a 'Head' of a 'Division' or 'School', for example, has accrued the status or has the equivalent rights and responsibilities of an HoD. Contradictions and inconsistencies are not uncommon. It is difficult to believe that the present structural arrangements are optimal for the academic enterprise or for the students.

Table 3.2 The number of academic and research 'structures' in each faculty, as recorded in the 2007 Student Handbooks (thus excluding CHED) and in the 2005 UCT Research Report (cross-checked to avoid double-counting). 'Other' includes mostly inter-faculty structures.





























It would seem necessary, if the HoDs are to lead and administer a cohesive department that shares a common general goal, and that has agreed priorities, that the University should act to manage this fragmentation and complexity. Of major concern is the fact that for relatively few of these structures is there a formal document that details the relationship between the individual structure and its leader (e.g. the 'Director', or 'Divisional Head') and the HoD of the parent department (if there is one), and the relevant Dean and Faculty. There are, of course, instances in which these important matters have been meticulously considered and documented. For example, the relationship between the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology and its parent department, the Department of Zoology, and its HoD, was made explicit about 40 years ago in a lengthy legal document, but this is the exception not the rule. 

For years, the University Research Committee (URC) has followed a formal system and process for establishing research entities under its jurisdiction: 'Institutes' are the most elaborate structures, are required to meet more demanding criteria to be accredited by the URC, and consequently have greater status in the URC compact-three-tier hierarchy, that also includes 'Centres' and then 'Units'. The University could regard this as a successful precedent in considering how to reduce faculty and departmental complexities and fragmentation. In the process the University should not lose sight of the additional potential complications that will have to be managed by HoDs when the NRF research professors and their research groupings, and their independent sources of funding, are incorporated into and hosted by departments under the aegis of their duly-appointed HoDs. Tensions in this regard should be confidently anticipated.

Recommendation III

The University should re-assess and rationalise the spectrum of intra- and inter-departmental and intra- and inter-faculty academic and research structures with a view to:
o   reducing their number;
o   defining criteria for the establishment of such structures (using precedents from the University Research Committee as a starting point);
o   deciding on consistently applied definitions and a hierarchy for such structures in terms of their roles and relative status within the institution;
o   defining for each structure the relationships between it (and its leadership) and the Head(s) of the parent department(s), the department(s) itself or themselves, the Dean(s) and the relevant Faculty Board(s); and similarly, with a view to
o   defining the relationship between the newly-appointed or anticipated National Research Foundation research professors (and their research teams) and the Head(s) of the parent department(s), the department(s) itself or themselves, the Dean(s) and the relevant Faculty Board(s).





International perceptions of the status of the University of Cape Town as an academic institution may be gleaned from a number of published 'rankings' (which are discussed in Section 5 of this report). Uniformly, these assessments, while they are unequivocal that UCT is the top-ranked university in Africa, are not flattering and indicate that there is clear room for improvement. 

As an academic institution that aspires to be internationally competitive and world-class, UCT has a number of inherent advantages in relation to the broad intellectual talents and strengths of its staff, its location, the country's physical structure, political and societal circumstances, the uniqueness of its people, and its fauna and flora, all of which provide rich subject matter for scholarly enquiry and innovative teaching, and provide the potential for the institution to compete with better-endowed, longer-established, and better-known institutions elsewhere. 

The manifestations of relative academic isolation

In common with other South African universities, however, UCT has a number of potentially debilitating disadvantages, and although most of these have been recognised and dealt with, the Task Group brings the following aspects to the repeated attention of the University because these perceptions help to make the case for initiating properly structured external reviews of academic departments as the essential first step in the appointment of incoming HoDs:

o   The University is geographically and therefore academically isolated.  The main stream of academia is 10,000 kilometres to the north, and further removed to the west and east.  In spite of modern communications, this is a formidable impediment.  Top academics, at the cutting edge of their respective fields, don't just 'drop in':  they have to be enticed and fetched.
o   Geographical isolation has been, and is, exacerbated by decades of political isolation.  Role model universities and their scholars have been inclined to ignore institutions in South Africa.  Matters have clearly improved but the legacy still lingers (Habib and Morrow 2006).
o   South African universities, in aggregate (< 0.2% of the world's total) comprise a very small community of scholars, and UCT's academic establishment, in common with that at other South African universities, is relatively closely-kindred.  While the greater proportion of the academic staff at UCT have wide, oft-repeated, and close academic connections with role-model institutions and top-ranked colleagues inside and outside of South Africa, and while they are very well qualified (holding degrees from many prestigious institutions from all over the world), with about half (49%) of them holding PhD degrees or equivalents, it is  important to note that about half of those (48%) have gained their PhD degrees from UCT itself (Table 4.1).  Further, nearly two-thirds (63%) of the academic staff at UCT are alumni of the institution, in the sense that they hold at least one degree from UCT. About 85% of UCT's academic staff hold degrees from UCT and/or from some other South African university.  In terms of their qualifications, relatively few of the UCT academic staff (only about 15%) are not members of the 'southern-end-of-Africa-academics-club', meaning that all their degrees were gained from universities outside of South Africa (Table 4.2).

Table 4.1   The proportion of the full-time academic staff at UCT 1: (i) who hold PhD or DSc degrees or their equivalents; and (ii) the proportion of those in column (i) whose PhD or DSc degrees or their equivalents were earned at UCT.  (Comparative data to those above for MBChBs and for LLBs are given in parentheses.) The numbers of academic staff in each faculty is also given. EBE – Engineering and the Built Environment.

(i) % who hold PhD degrees 3
(ii) % of those in column (i) whose PhD degrees
are from UCT
Commerce 2                               116
38% 3
EBE                                88
Health Sciences              381
(MBChB 71%)
27% 3
(MBChB 63%)
Humanities                    218
Law                                 42
(LLB  95%)
(LLB 36%)
Science                           175
% all faculties

1 The information is derived from a sample of 1020 full-time academic staff at UCT who are listed in the 2007 Faculty Handbooks (therefore not including CHED, which does not publish a Handbook), and includes only those in recognised academic departments, i.e. the sample does not include staff that are listed in research institutes, centres, units and the like. Further, the sample includes only those academic staff members who are listed as professors, associate professors, senior lecturers or lecturers. The sample does not include research officers, scientific investigators, technical officers, specialists, etc. and also does not  include any members of the academic staff who are listed as part-time, five-eighths, honorary, emeritus, adjunct, visiting, or in any other associated capacity.
2 Including the Graduate School of Business (GSB).
3 These data differ from those recorded by the UCT Institutional Planning Department for the ‘highest formal qualification[s]’ for the 2005-2006 cohort of academic staff ( ‘Internal reporting’ – Faculties Report 2005-2006, Table 44), because, in the present report: (i) the data for the GSB are subsumed into those for the Commerce Faculty as a whole; and (ii) PhD and DSc degrees and equivalents are segregated from MBChBs.

Table 4.2   The proportion of the academic staff at UCT who hold: (iii) one or more degrees from UCT; (iv) no UCT degrees but have degrees from other SA universities; and (v) who hold degrees that are exclusively from universities that are external to South Africa (SA).   The sample numbers of academic staff for each of the faculties, as in Table 4.1, and see footnotes 1 and 2 to Table 4.1. EBE – Engineering and the Built Environment. 

(iii) Hold one or more UCT degrees
(iv) Hold degrees from other SA universities
(v) All degrees gained from universities external to SA
Commerce 2                           
Health Sciences             

Isolation and broad cognateness among the academic staff can express itself in complacency or perhaps even unfounded arrogance about the relative achievements of the 'in-group', a reluctance to accept outsiders, and an apprehension or resentment of critical commentary from those who are not members of the 'club'. In the South African university environment, these attributes may manifest themselves in several ways.

(i)         The common practice in South African universities, in contrast to many of the leading universities in the US, for example, is to encourage promising undergraduates from the home institution to continue their postgraduate studies at their alma mater.  The policy of 'growing your own timber' has considerable merits, of course, and may be a pragmatic necessity in relatively isolated academic communities, but many of the career paths of academics at UCT are typified by undergraduate and/or postgraduate degrees at UCT (often supplemented by experiences and degrees from overseas institutions) before they rejoin the University as staff members. Many top universities in the US – which boast the overwhelming majority of top-rated universities in the world – are often reluctant to, or do not, appoint their own graduates to their academic staff.

(ii)        The academic staff at UCT once appointed, tend to exhibit extraordinary fidelity to the institution. In 2006, the annual turn-over rate for academic staff at UCT was 4.6% and the average tenure of service was nearly 16 years.  No comparative data are available from other South African universities, but by international standards these turn-over rates are very low (A. Mossop, pers. comm.). On the one hand this stability (the 'Table Mountain syndrome') is a huge asset, but on the other it may be a factor exacerbating the 'close-kindredness' of the staff, making a regular influx of 'new blood' less easy, and perhaps making broad change in the institution more difficult to achieve.

(iii)             There is a clear propensity, encouraged by the Department of National Education's journal listings and research subsidy system, among members of the academic staff at South African universities, to publish in parochial, non-competitive journals that have negligible impact factors and virtually no international 'reach'.  UCT is the least vulnerable of South Africa's universities to this criticism.  The definitive account on these matters is in a detailed article over 30 pages, by Mouton, Boschoff and Tijssen (2006), and together with the articles by Gevers (2006) and by Pouris (2006) comprise essential reading for anyone concerned about the international status of South African published scholarship.  Inter alia Mouton et al. (2006) conclude that about half of all South African journals do ".....  not have any international visibility: articles in these journals are not cited outside of South Africa and the production of content in many of them is dominated by one or two institutions and in some cases by the same institution (or department) that publishes the journal."

(iv)             The overwhelming tendency among South African universities is to appoint local South African 'external examiners' to judge the quality and standards achieved at the institution.  Even when external examiners are chosen from role model institutions elsewhere in the world, not infrequently, some investigation will reveal that they themselves were previous members of the 'club' who have latterly moved further afield.  It often takes insistent interventions by HoDs, Deans, Higher Degree Committees and Deputy Vice-Chancellors at UCT, for example,  to try and ensure that outsiders are appointed, who besides their leadership role in their respective disciplines, are relatively disinterested, dispassionate and objective in judging the work of the University and its students.

Relevant to these comments are the experiences of the Doctoral Degrees Board (DDB) at UCT, which routinely appoints top-ranked international scholars to examine PhD theses.  The rigour of the DDB is an internal UCT showpiece in quality control and the pursuit of excellence that the academic community at UCT as a whole would be wise to note and to emulate.

Departmental reviews by teams comprising international scholars from role-model universities and local South African experts

Through the Principal's Circular of March 2004, a document on 'Guidelines for Academic Review (Version 4.2)' at UCT was approved, and these processes are still current.  The guidelines apply to self-review procedures, in which the use of external reviewers is limited to peers that are drawn from local South African universities, professional bodies and organisations.  Version 4.2 is in the process of revision and an updated draft is in circulation as Version 6.3 (dated 23 April 2007). Version 6.3, which it should be stressed has not yet been approved details review procedures at 'course level', at 'major/programme level' and, specifically within the context of the present report, details the proposed review procedures at 'departmental level'. A close reading of Version 6.3 in its entirety makes it absolutely clear that the involvement of external examiners or reviewers will continue to be limited to experts drawn from the South African institutional system. (UCT's practice of reviewing the status of its various research Centres, Institutes and Units is also based on the exclusive use of external reviewers from within South Africa). Looked at cynically, UCT's practices are in some ways analogous to those of a good tennis player who has aspirations for the improvement of his game and of his rankings on the international professional tennis circuit, but who, besides regular self-analyses of his game, seeks advice and approval for his techniques and the quality of his performance almost exclusively from his South African peers and colleagues, who are ranked beneath him, and whom he usually beats.

It is true that during 2006, UCT did conduct two 'Special Reviews' of departments which involved a necessary combination of non-South African, international external reviewers, moderated by expert South African reviewers (J. Favish, pers. comm.). In this regard the Terms of Reference for the 2006 review of the Department of Dance at UCT (Appendix E) are particularly instructive. They are indicative of the procedures that are envisaged by the Task Group for rigorous external reviews of academic departments. In any event, it is a very short step from the practice of occasional and exceptional 'Special Reviews' to a process in which departmental reviews by highly respected international reviewers assisted by local experts become the norm and not the exception. What the Task Group envisages as the basic elements for an ‘international’ review of UCT's academic departments are contained in Appendix F. It is important to understand that any review team must comprise non-South African reviewers and local South African experts to moderate and to provide a local context for the review. An essential element of the Task Group's proposal is that these departmental reviews would be coupled with and be a necessary preliminary to the appointment procedures for new HoDs at UCT.

Departmental reviews (or reviews of a group of cognate departments e.g. in the Law Faculty) by top international scholars and local experts seem to the Task Group to be an imperative for UCT if it is to enhance its academic vigour and improve its international competitiveness. Departmental reviews by the best disciplinary experts in the world are overwhelmingly in the best interests of the University, its academic departments, and all its students. The NRF, in their evaluation and rating system over the last 18 years, has had the ready cooperation of several thousand overseas reviewers, many from famous institutions, many highly lauded as experts, including Nobel Prize winners, from over 2000 institutions in 77 countries. UCT must tap into this rich source of expertise and goodwill to help it in its academic endeavours.

Review and planning overload

Almost all of the interviewees approached during the work of the Task Group supported the notion of ‘international’ departmental reviews by top-rated peers from role model universities outside of South Africa. However, many of the HoDs interviewed were apprehensive about the idea of having to go through yet another review and planning process in conjunction with the existing procedures. The Task Group strongly identifies with these misgivings.

Internal self-review procedures (as envisaged in Version 6.3) and any ‘international’ reviews of departments (or groups of cognate departments) should be carefully integrated (see diagram in Section 4 on page 21 of the present report) and spaced appropriately at sensible intervals, on a case-by-case basis. Excessive application of quality controls, reviews and interminable planning can almost be more distracting and debilitating to departments than no quality controls at all. With some little adjustment, the existing quality control procedures, and the Task Group's proposals for ‘international’ reviews of academic departments, could easily be integrated and  used to strengthen existing procedures without exacerbating 'review and planning fatigue' in the academic departments

In the revised 'Guidelines for Academic Review Version 6.3', which is only in draft form at present, it is envisaged that departmental reviews would be conducted at 10-year intervals. The URC’s review of research Institutes, Centres and Units is currently based on a five-year-cycle with the initial review dependent on the opinions of national reviewers, but with the subsequent review cycle (i.e. after 10 years), which will begin in 2008, including two international reviewers. The Task Group proposes that ‘international’ departmental reviews should normally be conducted prior to the appointment of a new HoD, and that the term of office for newly appointed HoDs should usually be five years, with the option of renewal for a further three- to five-year term (see Section 4.3). So the probable intervals for ‘international’ departmental reviews envisaged by the Task Group may, in many cases, also be between about 8 and 10 years.

In any event, it would obviously be superfluous to go through another full-blown ‘international’ departmental review after five years if the incumbent HoD is to continue and if his or her performance and that of the department is entirely satisfactory. Should the incumbent HoD resign after five years in office, or before, the situation in respect of the necessity of an ‘international’ review would need to be re-assessed at that time and on a case-by-case basis.



There are a number of obvious but important intermediate steps between the proposed external reviews by international and local experts of an academic department (or group of cognate departments) and the start of the appointment committee procedures for selecting a new HoD.

o   The findings of the external review team would need to be assessed by the department and by the University and, where the ideas are constructive or usefully novel, integrated into the existing plans and strategies in a way that will help to determine and shape the future of the department. 
o   The University, if this is necessary, could gain clarity on the role of the department in the institution as a whole. 
o   In particular, the department and the University could re-examine the department's 'niche role' in a wider international context. The point is that, where this is possible, the department can become more prominent and internationally competitive if it were to concentrate on scholarship where its location at the southern tip of Africa is an asset.  There are many departments at UCT which are well-known internationally precisely because they have identified a scholarly niche and exploited local circumstances.  For example, the study by Pouris (2007), which is based solely on a citation assessment of the international performance of South African academic institutions, adds substance to this view.  South African universities are doing best in areas where their locale gives them the advantage: according to this assessment, UCT is foremost in South Africa, ranked 103 in the world in Environment/Ecology; the University of the Witwatersrand at 166 in Geosciences; and UCT and the University of Pretoria at 188 and 200 respectively in Plant and Animal Sciences.
o   Should the external review of the department and/or subsequent assessments by the University require the restructuring or merger of a department it would be necessary to extend the term of office of the incumbent HoD or to appoint an interim HoD until the restructuring is concluded.

Once there is clarity on all these matters the department and the faculty would then be able to pay careful attention to the draft information sheet and the Terms of Reference and to the wording of the advertisement, effectively initiating the process for the appointment of a new HoD.



The present appointment procedures for HoDs at UCT are summarised by Corder and Reddy (2000):  "The Dean is responsible for recommending, through the [appropriate] Deputy Vice-Chancellor to Council, who should be appointed as Head of Department (after consultation with the permanent academic staff of that department). The Dean is responsible for the induction, training and assessment of Heads of Departments."

In practice, the faculties vary widely in their interpretation of the degree of consultation that is necessary, in their interpretation of the necessary induction and training for HoDs, and in the degree of forward-planning and support for in-coming HoDs.  In making an appointment of an HoD, the Dean and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor involved are in a difficult position. Consultations with academic and support staff in the department may be misleading in that there may be, not uncommonly, a tendency for the 'popular vote' to go to the person who is the least likely to change the status quo.  In other cases, Deans may decide to recommend an appointment which does not meet with majority approval.  Both circumstances are problematic for obvious reasons, and interviews have revealed that there have been recent appointments which illustrate both of these problems. 

In its totality, the present system of HoD-appointments often results in the appointment of people who are temperamentally reluctant or unsuitable in other ways to lead, manage and administer an academic department.  Stripped to their basics, the current procedures are so superficial as to suggest that the appointment of an HoD is of no real moment or consequence in the University.  People are often persuaded to do the job for short, functionally-ineffective periods of time, simply because it is their turn to do so.  The importance of strong sustained leadership and of effective management and administration in the well-being and future of the department, and eventually that of the whole institution and its students, seems to be contradicted and demeaned by the low-key procedures which are presently in place to appoint a new HoD.

The Task Group believes that a change in these practices is necessary to make them more demanding, rigorous and discerning and that this would signal to all at the University that the position of HoD at UCT is to be taken seriously.  To this end the Task Group recommends that the recruitment and selection procedures for professorial posts at the University (Appendix G) provides a well-established set of rules and guidelines that can easily be adopted for use in the appointment of  new HoDs.  Some modifications of the recruitment and selection process for professors would obviously be needed.  In particular, as far as the composition of the committee is concerned it would be necessary:

o   to exclude the outgoing HoD as a member of the committee;
o   in appointing "other members of the permanent academic staff .....  plus alternates ", to place emphasis on senior members  of the academic department in question;
o   to include, perhaps, a cognate Dean in addition to the Dean of the faculty to provide assistance and a wider perspective;
o   to include a senior member of the Centre for Higher Education Development;
o   to include a senior representative of the PASS personnel in the department; and
o   to include a representative of each of the under- and postgraduate students of the department.

The emphasis in the appointment of a new HoD would be on a thorough and wide advertising and search procedure, particularly among present members of staff who may ‘grow into’ the job and prove to be suitable, or who have proved to be excellent HoDs in the past. 

The Committee in the usual way, would interview short-listed candidates and negotiate with the successful appointee the level of initial support and of the remuneration package, including needs for equipment, assistance, and the facilities and time for research.  At the same time, on a case-by-case basis, it would be necessary for the Committee, as is usual,  to explore with the new appointee, especially if he or she was not part of the departmental reviewing process, whether or not he or she supports the future plans of the department, or variations on these plans, and to  stipulate any requirements for induction and training of the incoming HoD, including perhaps, a period in which the new HoD 'shadows' the out-going HoD and attends important meetings, so that he or she is in a position to make progress from the first day of appointment.

The Task Group envisages that the appointment of incoming HoDs under the proposed dispensation would require the new HoDs to serve for a five-year term, and that this contract could be renewable for a further three- to five-year term, following an assessment of progress, but not necessarily involving a full-blown ‘international’ external review (see Section 4.1).

Several interviewees, while agreeing that more formal and stringent selection procedures would be a significant improvement and clearly signal UCT's respect for the position of the HoD, and thus immediately imply an improved status for the HoD, were sceptical, that until there is a change of perception and attitude among professors and associate professors at the University, there may be a reluctance for them to apply for the post of HoD.  In that case the University would need to review critically the role of the department and move deliberately towards a resolution of the situation, which could include, for example, a merger of departments or the appointment of an interim HoD. 

Obviously, if these suggestions were to be adopted, the most suitable HoD may come from outside of UCT and therefore would have to be appointed as a 'supernumerary', pending future resignations or retirements. The appointment of 'new blood' personnel at this very senior and crucial level would clearly have cost implications and carry the risk that the new appointee would not understand the ethos or the realities of the South African and UCT environment and thus would not be effective or would become isolated within the UCT academic community, but these are obvious risks in making any new appointment. On the other hand the HoD Selection Committee would be aware that the proposals offer an excellent opportunity to attract talented ex-patriots, and thus over the years, help to change the demographic and gender profile of UCT's HoDs.

The Task Group also considered whether or not it was wise, in the proposed new appointment process, to suggest that an application for an HoD position by an associate professor would be a de facto application for ad-hominem promotion to a full professor.  The Task Group advises against this.  At this point in its history, the University needs to do everything necessary to attract the best, the most suitable, and the most willing people to do the job of HoD irrespective of their present ranking as a professor or associate professor.  There are obvious precedents of associate professors who have, and are proving to be excellent HoDs, leaders, managers and administrators, in spite of the difficulties they face in this position. Thus, the further implication is that the requirements of the ‘Rate for Job’ may have to be interpreted with some sensitivity and flexibility in order to ensure that the best people are attracted to the position of HoD, and such that, in the case of associate professors, they can enjoy the prospects of promotion. 



Albeit in a very different context to the main subject of this Task Group report, the Vice-Chancellor, in 2003, reminded the Senate that:

"This University has an ambitious mission, which is based on the quality of what we do. It is not possible to achieve that mission without high quality staff.  And that means both academic and the Professional Administrative and Support Services (PASS) staff. The University cannot exist without its academic staff; it equally cannot exist without its PASS staff. We are fortunate to have many highly competent and dedicated PASS staff who are absolutely critical to our success. ....  Some have viewed the relationship between academics and PASS staff to be hierarchical.  This conception is outmoded and unsustainable in today's world.  It is not a feature of successful contemporary organisations. Such relationships [are] better viewed as functional and are mediated by a commitment to institutional values and gaols, which have been identified and agreed to." (UCT Senate Minutes: 26 November 2003).

Put differently, in the context of the present Task Group's brief, if there are problems affecting the ability of HoDs and of academic departments to deliver the best possible to their students, then these are matters that are of concern to the entire University and must be managed co-operatively by all concerned.  The staff of the University in its entirety must accept 'reciprocal responsibility' in determining solutions to the problems.

The administrative workload on heads of departments

It is common cause that over the last few decades the University has become a far more complex and demanding environment and that the considerable increase in the administrative burden imposed from outside and from inside the University has inevitably had an impact on HoDs, and on everyone else at the University (Louw and Finchilescu 2003; Scott 2007).

In order for the Task Group to understand the magnitude of the problem and in an attempt at quantification, a letter, dated 8 December 2006, was directed through Professor M. West (Chair of the Operations Management Advisory Group), to the PASS department heads and directors requesting information on their written and e-mail interactions with HoDs during 2006 and enquiring about 'control mechanisms' that are in place to limit these exchanges (Appendix H). In the event, six PASS departments responded with more or less detailed accounts totalling over 250 pages (including duplicates of the same requests) of communications to Deans, HoDs, research entities, programme leaders, programme convenors and others.  This incomplete sample provides sufficient data to confirm that hundreds of informational documents, requests for action (sometimes requiring that many thousands of forms be completed) are directed at HoDs in any one calendar year.  That is no surprise.

Of course, many of these communications are essential and unavoidable if the administrative work of the University is to proceed.  What may not be generally appreciated, however, is that the Deans and the Faculty Office staff also receive hundreds of communications and in many cases (perhaps in the majority of cases) this administrative load is then referred to the HoDs.  This in itself is also no surprise, since Deans confirm that in most cases it is not possible for them to conclude administrative business without referring the matter to the HoDs, who then often refer these communications to the academic staff members in their department.  The point is that every communication has a huge potential, or actual, multiplicative effect on the workloads of all University staff. 

The responses that originated from the request to PASS departments of 8 December 2006, and from interviews across the University, also make it easier to understand how the administrative burden may be considerably exacerbated by communications:

o   That are lengthy and complex and unclear about exactly what actions are required;
o   That are duplicated in the sense that essentially the same information or requirement is requested by more than one of the administrative departments;
o   That are unnecessary in the sense that the information requested could have been, and should have been gleaned at source and not referred to Deans and/or to HoDs;
o   That are relatively trivial or even, frankly, frivolous;
o   That require Deans and/or HoDs to meet unrealistic deadlines; (in one case a complicated response was required within  two-and-a-half-days); and
o   That are misdirected or superfluous; for example when the announcement of a function concerning a single academic department was widely circulated although it is virtually inconceivable that the information would have been of interest to members of staff in other faculties.

Interviews with academic and administrative staff indicate strongly that one of the main problems, of course, is the injudicious use of e-mail.  (Many books and articles have been written on this problem and there is much on the Internet.)  E-mail is characteristically a very coarse communicative medium.  Hasty composition and hasty responses are the norm.  Thus, meanings are often obscure and the responses often even more so.  E-mails encourage directness and seem to engender a special sort of 'Dutch courage' in senders that often serve to provoke umbrage and non co-operation in recipients.  From the 8 December 2006 returns, it is clearly not unusual for e-mails to be copied to 60 or more recipients, a problem that is exacerbated by the liberal and unwise use of the 'reply all' button. ‘Blind’-copied e-mails may be particularly insidious. Poorly conceived and poorly directed e-mails can be a significant intrusion and constraint on productivity by all of those who work at UCT, including HoDs.

Minimising the administrative load: control mechanisms and 'filtering systems'

None of the above observations are particularly novel, but they highlight oft-repeated problems mentioned by interviewees across a wide sector of the University community.  The question is how to limit this administrative burden.  One of the PASS department respondents provided some very helpful precedents of 'control mechanisms' in force in that department which can be paraphrased as follows:

o   Any requests for information intended for a Dean or HoD must be approved by the Director of the PASS department and in some cases the Deputy Vice-Chancellor responsible.  Such a request must be signed-off by these officers.
o   Where the Director of the PASS department is not directly involved in requests to Deans and HoDs, line managers of each section within the PASS department have the delegated authority to deal with faculty officers.  However, they have to ensure that any requests sent by staff of the PASS department on their behalf are checked and vetted for content and linguistic accuracy. This is in order to protect the PASS department's image and credibility as well as to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication.  It is also to ensure that communication takes place at appropriate levels.
o   Staff members are encouraged to use various methods of accessing information before resorting to communication with HoDs and Deans and others, e. g. the Web and the UCT Intranet, PeopleSoft, SAP R/3, the Principal's Circular, internal resources, and other UCT official documents.
o   Due to the nature of what the PASS department does, its staff are amongst the most well informed with regard to UCT policies and procedures.

The responses from PASS departments to the Task Group's letter of 8 December 2006 indicate, as above, that checks and controls are in place at UCT to limit administrative overload, but these returns, and the interviews with administrators and academics suggest that such 'filtering mechanisms' are not similarly well developed across the University and neither are they uniform or comprehensive. 

At least one other South African university devotes considerable attention to filtering systems that screen, for example, incoming major requests or directives from outside sources such as the Department of Education, the NRF, and others that total over 100 such requests per year. At that University, 'filtering' is the responsibility of a small group of people who screen the material, summarise it if necessary, and direct it to specific and appropriate target audiences.  Their filtering system allows HoDs to choose whether or not to receive certain categories of inputs.  The system includes clear protocols that define which line authorities have to approve the communiqués before they go out.  They include, for each person, a specific list of people or categories of staff who can be contacted within the envelope of their authority, such that relatively minor functionaries cannot post notices, send information or impose administrative tasks on academic or administrative staff without approval of the matter through senior line managers.  These constraints include, in particular, the use of e-mails. Again, the huge multiplicative impacts of inadequately-screened communications at a large institution should be kept in mind: conversely effective filtering systems could have considerable multiplicative beneficial effects.

Control and filtering systems if extrapolated further would require that all members of staff at the University recognise that while they have the responsibility to fulfil a proximal task it is also their responsibility to ensure that, as far as they are able, they screen and limit written and e-mail communications enabling everyone to optimise their proscribed contributions to the University.

Additional administrative assistance for HoDs

The prior observations provide a context for one of the main concerns of HoDs at UCT.  In a document prepared by the AHWG and discussed by the SEC on 12 June 2006, the following extract is of relevance:

"Heads of academic departments (HoDs) have indicated that they spend too much of their time on mundane administrative issues with the result that they are unable to properly focus on academic leadership: the role central to being an academic HoD.  They have indicated that this problem could be alleviated with better administrative support within the department or faculty".

The Task Group makes the following observations that do not support the notion that a wide-spread deployment of additional administrative assistants or of departmental managers or perhaps of more senior administrative functionaries, located in the individual department, is the correct response to these problems:

o   As noted by the AHWG about two-thirds of the 60 departments at UCT seem not to be big enough (comprising less than about 20 academics) to justify these measures.  A first step is to reduce the numbers of really small departments and thus to minimise the duplicated effort on administrative tasks (and this matter is discussed in Section 3 in this report);
o   In some departments where HoDs shun administration or perform reluctantly or perhaps less than efficiently,  the added responsibility of an administrative assistant or departmental manager, who might or might not be effective, has an equal chance of complicating the administrative tasks of the HoD, rather than simplifying them;
o   There are already two major 'layers' of administration in the University – the 'central' administration and the 'peripheral' administration in the faculty offices.  It is the primary task of the latter to take responsibility for and to provide the required assistance to HoDs, and, except in rare circumstances, an additional administrative layer in the departments themselves, in a sense outside the ambit of the existing administrative structures, would seem to invite problems;
o   In many departments, but certainly not all, amicable arrangements are in place in which the administrative and management loads on the HoD are shared by designated 'Deputy-Heads', and the like, and by the delegation of specified tasks among the members of the academic staff. These precedents seem to provide one obvious and effective expedient for dealing with the problem;  
o   The University has made it abundantly clear that there will not be a special budgetary allocation for this purpose;
o   Nonetheless, in exceptional circumstances, perhaps, for example, in large departments, a faculty could decide of its own accord that additional administrative support at departmental level is a priority and act accordingly; and
o   In particular, the Task Group is not supportive of the deployment of additional administrative functionaries at departmental level because this expedient would seem to be a treatment for the symptoms of the problem of administrative overload and not the cause. It must be possible through appropriate interventions to reduce the source of overload by a significant amount.

Pre-empting the problem of administrative overload

The administrative structures at UCT are faced with formidable challenges.  In deciding how best to deal with these, in the context of HoDs and academic departments, it would almost certainly be advantageous to involve the academic sector in co-operative alliances at the inception of major administrative initiatives.  At present, interviewees suggest that HoDs (and the academics 'at the coal-face') have minimal inputs in assisting their administrative colleagues in planning their interactions with HoDs and the academic sector at large.  Consequently, and typically, an administrative directive is met with resistance.  The HoDs often feel defensive or disempowered because they cannot understand the necessity for the 'imposition of these repeated manifestations of managerialism' and they are often unclear as to how to proceed.  Consequently, the first response is to pass the matter through to their fellow academics in the department who may also share the same sentiments as the HoD.  Thus, because the process enjoys little 'buy-in' from the inception and perhaps enjoys less understanding than it should, the matter is stalled or inefficiently dealt with, to the frustration of the administrators who themselves are under enormous pressures.  A downward spiral of misunderstanding and thin tolerance levels is the consequence. Thus the Task Group concludes that it would be valuable if the academic sector (perhaps represented by the AHWG) were part of the development of major administrative processes that will affect the academics and which will inevitably require their willing co-operation.
In the opinion of the Task Group the notion of 'reciprocal responsibility' for the destiny of the University and for the quality of the education received by students is not yet an idea that has taken firm root.

Departmental visits

During its work, the Task Group became aware of the inadequate levels of understanding by academics of the pressures and problems faced by their administrative colleagues, and the lack of understanding and sympathy by some in the administrative sector of the priorities and values of the academics.  Many HoDs have never visited some of the important administrative departments with which they interact.  Routine, face-to-face problem-solving meetings between small groups of academics and administrators are not the norm. It also seems unusual for senior administrative personnel to have visited the various campuses and their constituent academic departments. 

Interviewees mentioned the weekly visits, in years past, to the academic departments on the various campuses by the top executives ('administration by walk-about'). These sorts of interactions have become far less commonplace recently. All who were part of this process agreed that these visits contributed greatly to the quick and efficient resolution of seemingly intractable problems that may have been the source of resentment or misunderstanding.  These visits had many beneficial consequences in enhancing mutual respect and an understanding that all members of staff at the University are working together towards the same ultimate objectives.  The view was expressed that an on-site visit is worth a thousand memos. 

Recognition for the role of HoDs

Besides expedients to limit the administrative loads on HoDs and to pre-empt the problem through cooperative interactions, there are other simple-to-implement, common-sense actions that would serve to stress to the University the important role of the HoDs and, by implication, the academic departments themselves.

Interviewees often mentioned that the work of the HoDs seem to be largely unappreciated and seldom publicly acknowledged within the University.  The perception of many is that apart from the differential allowances to the HoDs (which are generous and mostly well appreciated), 'it seems to make little difference whether you work fourteen hours a day doing the job to the best of your ability or whether you do the minimum that is necessary, and do it badly'.  To put the matter directly, it is clear that HoDs would appreciate more overt public recognition for their efforts, as would many of their colleagues in the administrative departments (Louw and Finchilescu 2003).  Researchers, centres or institutes and much else besides, certainly get more regular mention and top billing.

There are many opportunities for the University to feature and to emphasise the pivotal roles of HoDs, and thus to boost their status in their own eyes and in the opinions of their peers, and of their students.  For example, the Vice-Chancellor's report, the UCT Research report, the Monday Paper and other internal publications, seem to offer such an opportunity, as do University ceremonial occasions, such as graduation. 

Heads of departments and the University Senate

A few hours spent in the UCT archives paging through the Minutes of the Senate from previous decades will reveal that Senate was a forum for vigorous debate on all manner of academic matters.  It is unnecessary to labour the point, but the functioning of the Senate today seems to be very different: the 'Report of the Task Team appointed to consider the structure and size of Senate' (the 'Folb report' presented to Senate on 1 April 2003 – item 3 – and the discussion recorded therein) highlights some of the problems that are facing the University in this respect. 

Presently, and for some time past, attendance at Senate has been disappointing and quorums are often barely achieved.  In particular, attendance at Senate meetings by the HoDs themselves has for some years been 40% (or less), and some HoDs do not attend any Senate meetings (see the Minutes of the Senate meetings for the past five years on the UCT Intranet). This is clearly a disturbing state of affairs for a top level constituency that sees itself beset with problems that affect the whole academic fabric of the University.

The Task Group does not readily accept that the root cause of the problem is that Senate is too large (at about 300 members). The main issue is that many senior academics and HoDs interviewed now view the Senate as largely irrelevant and they see themselves as impotent recipients of 'done deals' and 'pep talks'.  Several of those interviewed pointed out that the 'real work and the real decisions' are taken by the SEC on which 'coal-face' academics and HoDs are very much in the minority.  The feeling of disempowerment by grass-roots academics is also a view of the Senate held by many interviewees and explains the phrase that attendees at Senate are 'impotent recipients of done-deals'.  Heads of departments expressed frustration that decisions taken at SEC level sometime by-pass the Senate and are dealt with directly in a Principal's Circular, and while that is a process which allows for objections to be raised it is not a vehicle for initiating academic change. The Task Group cannot quantify, agree with or disagree with these opinions, but they do exist.

The point is, however, that the HoDs and the academics themselves must accept at least partial responsibility for these circumstances. Heads of departments and academics should have been and should be the main drivers in maintaining or restoring the credibility and important role of the Senate.  Recently, however, relatively few well-researched, well-motivated proposals for change have emanated from the academic sector and have been seriously debated on the Senate floor (see the Senate Minutes for the last five years on the UCT Intranet). 

The last several years at UCT have shown that the informal articulation of problems and complaints by HoDs and academics, without the necessary commitment and follow-up, is not a formula for successful change. The problems have not gone away.

Leadership, management and administration of academic departments: a team effort and the responsibility of all academics

Probably the most important component of support for HoDs must come from within the academic departments themselves.  The Task Group perceives that in some academic departments, perhaps in the majority of them, a change of attitude is required among many or most of the academic staff.  At present the HoD is overly and unfairly burdened to the detriment of his or her own academic development.  Many departments do have well functioning systems of delegation, but the prevailing attitude seems to be that the leadership, management and administration of the department is the sole responsibility of the HoD and that the involvement of other staff in these matters is a voluntary, perhaps altruistic and generous gesture.  Ironically, the introduction of substantial allowances for HoDs may be at least, in part, the origin of this point of view, reinforced by the practice of some HoDs to share out their allowances with some of the staff, who then perform prescribed duties on behalf of the HoD. The logical assumption follows that the HoD and others are paid to do the job, and that is that.

The contrary is in fact true. The leadership, management and administration of a department is the responsibility of the entire staff.  It is a team effort with the HoD as the co-ordinator and the one who is ultimately responsible.  All on the academic staff are obligated by their contracts with the University, and, in order to meet the expectations detailed in their 'Rate for Job' criteria, are required to be involved to a greater or lesser extent in these duties, depending on the seniority of their rank.

With a change of attitude in this regard, there is no doubt that the loads of HoDs could be more effectively managed and more equitably shared within the department itself, in a way that would allow the HoD  to participate fully in the scholarly life of the department, in teaching and research. Of course, the opportunities for an individual HoD to share the leadership, management and administrative load are considerably reduced in small departments.

Recommendation IV

The Task Group recommends that the University should consider the expedients for enhancing and supporting HoDs summarised in the flow chart at the start of Section 4 of the Task Group report, namely:

(i)   Introduce a system of external reviews of academic departments as a necessary preliminary to the appointment of a new HoD (Section 4.1);
(ii)  Use the findings of these external reviews as a basis for planning the future of the department
      (Section 4.2);
(iii) Initiate rigorous search, selection and appointment procedures for incoming HoDs
(Section 4.3); and,
(iv)  As elaborated in Section 4.4;
o   Strengthen or initiate protocols for controls and 'filtering systems' that regulate and limit in-house written communications, particularly e-mail interactions;
o   Consider the deployment of additional administrative staff in the academic departments only in exceptional circumstances;
o   Encourage cooperative interactions between academic and administrative staff aimed at the reduction of the administrative burden on the University through the involvement of HoDs and academic staff at the planning stage of initiatives that will require academic inputs;
o   Encourage face-to-face meetings to resolve problems of administrative overload, and encourage the initiation of schedules of inter-departmental visits by top executives and administrative staff to academic departments, and, vice versa, by HoDs to administrative departments;
o   Use UCT in-house publications and ceremonial occasions to reinforce the pivotal role of HoDs in the institution; 
o   Continue and resolve the debate  that started with the 'Folb report' to Senate in 2003; and
o   Ensure that every member of the academic staff understands their contractual obligation to cooperate with the HoD and to participate in the leadership, management and administration of academic departments. 



As the Task Group did its work it became obvious that the themes that have been developed in this report need to be seen in the wider context of the University's status and international ranking.  Information on the various world rankings of universities can be gained from the numerous articles and discussions on the Internet. Thus the Task Group has provided a short list of some of the best websites, which can be found following the references to this report under the heading 'Rankings of world universities'. These websites and their numerous links make interesting reading.

Although, in all the ranking systems, UCT appears as the top university in Africa, its showing on the general international stage is modest.  In the 2006 Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) "World University Rankings", UCT does not come in the top 200.  It is worth noting in this context that universities from the following countries are featured in the top 200: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.  In the "Champions League Table" presented by the Centre of Science and Technology Studies in Switzerland, UCT ranks poorly at number 342.  In the Webometrics analysis of web publishing and open access initiatives, only one African university is listed in the top 500 and that is UCT at number 356. In the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) rankings, which are gradually gaining increasing prominence, UCT, in 2006, was ranked among a group in the top 201 - 300 of the world's best universities.

Habib and Morrow (2006) provide a valuable commentary on South African scholarship which puts these data in perspective, and Vaughan et al. (2007) give a more focussed account on these rankings in a South African context.  No-one can reasonably expect UCT to compete with older and far more richly endowed universities. That is not the point.  The point is that UCT is ranked lower than other, smaller, younger, and generally, one would suppose, less well-known institutions elsewhere. Institutions from places such as New Zealand, Malaysia and Mexico have now made it into the top 200.  UCT is clearly not doing as well as it could, and comparisons of international university ratings over the last few years would suggest that UCT's rankings are remaining static and that it is just about holding its own. 

There are many arguments that are used in mitigation: a few of the people interviewed gave the impression that they regard rankings and 'league tables' as somehow improper, infra-dig. and inappropriate in the context of an academic institution.  Certainly UCT and other South African universities have had more pressing and immediate problems over the last decade.  The fact that UCT dominates the South African scene in respect of the NRF's ratings of individuals has brought with it the delusion that UCT is therefore highly competitive internationally as an institution.  It is disturbing that some academics believe that, because UCT is the top-ranked university in Africa, there is nothing more that could reasonably be expected of it.  Most damaging of all are the opinions that the published world rankings, because they are methodologically flawed in one way or another, should be swept under the carpet and ignored.

These arguments and perceptions miss the point.  The Internet contains many proud announcements by other universities of their improved rankings.  These announcements are not immodest, they have a strictly functional purpose:  the best ranked universities attract the best students and scholars nationally and internationally; they are more likely to attract substantial funding than their lesser-rated counterparts; and perhaps most important of all, improved rankings feed the morale and the esprit de corps of the entire institution.  In short, the world rankings and the 'league tables' are here to stay and are of huge significance to any progressive university. The students of the UCT of the future cannot inherit an institution whose status is on the decline.  As one interviewee put the matter, 'it would be a terrible irony if, just as higher education in South Africa is coming within reach of previously excluded communities, the currency [i.e. the worth and acceptability of their degrees] were to be devalued'. It is sobering to note the palpable decline of some of UCT's best sister universities in South Africa over a very short period of time, and to reflect on the stagnation of South African research and scholarship generally (Habib and Morrow 2006).

Many universities outside of South Africa have understood the full significance, dynamics and realities of the world rankings and have deliberately positioned themselves over the last several years in order to improve their international status.  These strategies are clearly working.  The task of improving UCT's international rankings will not be easy.  While the University has been attending to more urgent matters of its political and financial survival, it has been overtaken by other universities in the world who are taking deliberate steps to improve their rankings.  The University can be enormously encouraged, however, by the persistent and targeted responses of the Graduate School of Business at UCT which, although it operates in a very different environment to that of most academic departments, has taken the matter of its own international ranking seriously. In the 2007 "Financial Times Global top 100 MBA rankings" the GSB improved its international standing by 14 places from 66 to number 52. 

These matters were discussed with many of the interviewees.  All could imagine an almost immediate scenario in which every department in the University, administrative as well as academic, was motivated to conduct their business in such a way as to contribute maximally to the unified goal of improving UCT's international stature.  All saw this objective as a tangible and manageable extrapolation of UCT's Mission Statement (adopted in 1996) and of the UCT Statement of Values (as adopted in 2001, and see UCT General Rules and Policies, 2007).  Thus the Task Group has been encouraged to recommend that the University as a whole adopt the improvement of its international status as a 'Strategic Objective'.  In so recommending, the Task Group is not in any way implying that this 'Strategic Objective' is a replacement for or suggestive of a down-scaling of the other strategic objectives that the University is currently implementing. 
Text Box: Recommendation V

The Task Group recommends that the University should select an appropriate group of administrators and academics (or perhaps delegate the task to an established committee) to:
o	Study the full spectrum of the world rankings of universities and gain an understanding of the methods and criteria that are variously used to generate these rankings;
o	Identify how UCT can  adapt the practices  of all its administrative and academic departments in ways that are aimed at optimising the University's chances of improving its international rankings; and then 
o	Motivate to the University at large to accept that these practices and objectives be adopted by the institution as one of its stated 'Strategic Objectives'.

Further, the Task Group recommends that the University commits itself to a realistic but specific target in respect of the world university rankings, for example, to be included among the top 200 in the THES and SJTU rankings by the year 2015, and thus 'claim [its] place in the international community of scholars' and achieve 'the institutional goal of becoming a world-class African University'.


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Academic Ranking of World Universities:

International Ranking Of Universities –Swiss Confederation:

Shanghai Jiao Tong University Rankings:

Times Higher Education Supplement: and see INCE, M. (2005) Fine-tuning puts picture in much
sharper focus. World University Rankings.  Times Higher Education Supplement, 28 October.

UK Research Assessment Exercise:

Webometrics Ranking Of World Universities:

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