Moses Motha, the new Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Student Ombudsman, was appointed to this important function at the University on 1 March 2017.
Motha is, however, no stranger to the University. Before taking up the position at the Directorate: Quality Promotion, he was a lecturer at the Department of Applied Languages at the Pretoria Campus. In an interview with him this morning, he said it is imperative to see the Office of the Ombudsman as one that ensures that students’ academic rights are not violated and that he will undoubtedly assist them if there is merit in their complaints.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE STUDENT OMBUDSMAN AT A UNIVERSITY SUCH AS TUT?
Primarily, it is to receive and assess academic complaints from students. Once these have been confirmed to be falling within the ambit of the Office, a process of mediation between the different parties commences and an amicable solution is sought. Other responsibilities include conducting quality audits, student surveys and to monitor, as well as report on, quality issues within the University.
WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES?
To establish a seamless transition in the mediation and adjudication of cases that were lodged before I assumed duty. Secondly, to build on the work that has already been done by my predecessors, chief among which will be advocacy and creating an even greater awareness around the Office and duties of the Ombudsman. I am glad to announce that this process commenced during the 2017 orientation programme at different faculties, but more still needs to be done.
CAN YOU SHARE WITH US SOME OF THE MOST COMMON PROBLEMS WITH WHICH TUT STUDENTS APPROACH THE OFFICE?
A quick perusal of cases in the preceding years indicates that complaints regarding assessments are more prevalent. The second common problem is that of an acute variance in terms of postgraduate supervision processes between students and their appointed supervisors. The other cases that are more on the periphery relate to challenges with the residences, registration processes and outstanding fees.
ARE THESE UNIQUE TO TUT OR ARE THEY SIMILAR TO THAT AT OTHER UNIVERSITIES?
Although I have not conducted an empirical study on these challenges, my view is that they are not peculiar to TUT, but rather a reflection of students who are not oblivious to their rights but willing to articulate and seek resolutions towards them.
DOES THE OFFICE HAVE ANY STATISTICS WITH REGARDS TO ITS USE, SINCE ITS ESTABLISHMENT A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO?
Yes, we do and they are as follows: 2012 (32 cases), 2013 (10 cases), 2014 (seven cases), 2015 (65 cases), and in 2016 (57 cases). Therefore, if we focus on the last two years, we see an exponential increase in the number of cases. In 2015, 55.4 % cases came from academic departments, 30.1 % from the Registrar’s environment, and the remaining 14.4 % is split among other environments, like Residences and Student Accounts. In 2016, 39.1% cases came from academic departments, 40.3% from the Registrar’s environment, and the remaining 19.9% is also split among other environments.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS THAT STUDENTS SHOULD FOLLOW BEFORE THEY APPROACH YOUR OFFICE?
If, for any reason, a student is aggrieved by an academic process like assessment, he/she should first articulate his/her dissatisfaction with the lecturer concerned. If they do not get any joy out their complaint, the matter can be escalated to the HoD, even up to the Campus Director and the Executive Dean. In all these stages of lodging complaints, it is crucial that students keep documentary proof of their interaction with the different levels of authority, as these will be needed by the Ombudsman in setting up the mediation process. In the event that all these steps do not produce any joy, they can approach the Student Ombudsman with a view to seek a resolution to the complaint.
WHERE CAN STAFF AND STUDENTS CONTACT YOU?
The Office of the Student Ombudsman is located in Building 21, Room 428, Pretoria Campus, tel. 012 382 5525 or e-mail MothaM@firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Moses holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics from the University of Sydney and started his career as a lecturer at the Ndebele College of Education in 1988. He has since worked mainly in the education sector – the Rosebank College (Teaching and Learning Manager), Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance (Director: Teacher Development), and Vista University (Lecturer) among others. As a recipient of the Australia-Nelson Mandela (AUSAID) Scholarship, he spent two years in Australia (2001 – 2002) to hone his skills.