Private college faces closure over accreditation dispute

Mar 25 2017 08:02
Matthew le Cordeur, Fin24

Cape Town – Private college Oval International Computer Education is appealing a decision by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) that will result in the institution closing its doors in 2018.

The 28-year-old institute has colleges in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Johannesburg with around 1 000 students enrolled in programmes such as bachelors of commerce and information technology.

According to Oval, the dispute concerns a misunderstanding regarding the National Qualifications Framework level of accreditation for the college’s programmes, which has snowballed into a crisis for the institute.

On 27 September 2016, the Council on Higher Education withdrew the accreditation of all programmes approved to Oval except the certificate in computers and management, DHET spokesperson Madikwe Mabotha told Fin24 in an emailed statement on Thursday.

On 24 November 2016, the Registrar of Private Higher Education Institutions announced its intention to cancel the registration of Oval, a process that was finalised on 3 March 2017, Mabotha explained.

The cancellation of the registration was made effective on 24 January 2017 and Oval is not allowed to enroll new students on any year of the programme from this date, Dr Shaheeda Essack, director of Registration of Private Higher Education Institutions, wrote in a communique to students and the public on 15 February 2017.

Writing in the 3 March 2017 gazette, DHET director general Gwebinkundla Qonde said the “reason for my decision to cancel the institution's registration is due to the failure to comply with condition 1.1 of registration, providing false, fraudulent and misleading information”.

In addition, Qonde said Oval failed to comply with a regulation by failing to upload the learner achievement data of Noelene Vandeyar on the National Learner’s Records Database.

Mabotha confirmed that Oval indicated that it intends to review the Council on Higher Education’s decision to withdraw its accreditation in the North Gauteng High Court.

“The Department awaits the ruling of the High Court before any further decision can be made,” said Mabotha.

Business as usual for Oval amid appeal - attorney

Oval attorney Richard Donachie told Fin24 on Friday that the court challenge regarding accreditation might drag on into 2018, but that Oval appealed to the office of the minister regarding the cancellation of Oval’s registration, as this would result in Oval shutting down at the end of 2017.

Donachie said that because the matter is under review and being appealed, none of the orders announced are yet applicable.

While the accreditation challenge might take some time to resolve, there is no need to close the college, said Donachie. “We are confident that we will find a resolution to this matter,” he said.

The consequences if they do not resolve the matter are dire.

Essack explained that Oval “may not provide or purport to provide higher education” with effect from 1 January 2018 and subject to the outcome of the appeal to the minister, which was lodged on 10 February 2017.

“The outcome on the appeal will be released on or before 60 days of the date of lodging the appeal,” said Essack.

Essack told students that despite the appeal:

- Oval is “required to serve a phasing-out period” with respect to pipeline students;

- it must “reimburse or compensate any enrolled student who has a lawful claim on the institution as a consequence of its ceasing to operate”;

- it must “make adequate arrangements for affected students to complete their programmes at a comparable public or private institution”;

- it must “cease operating before or at the end of the academic year”; and

- “ensure that no new students are enrolled after the date specified”.

“Students are encouraged to seek legal advice on the above,” explained Essack. “Should the institution not reimburse students upon a lawful request … students are required to seek legal advice from an attorney of their choice, approach the Small Claims Courts for assistance on a refund for amounts up to R15 000 or Legal Aid South Africa for a refund on amounts above R15 000.”

Orientation day at Oval in 2016. (Photo: Oval website)

Oval expects positive outcome

Oval was founded by Durban entrepreneur Pravin Maharaj, who is its chief executive officer. It markets itself as “one of South Africa's foremost and longest running private higher education institutions” and says it “is in the forefront of pioneering the classroom of the future, providing access to learning resources from anywhere, anytime”.

Oval chief operating officer Smalls Nadasen told Fin24 via telephone last week that the institute had appealed the cancelling of the registration ruling and was expecting a favourable outcome in April. “The matter is under appeal with the minister,” he said. “All the reasons they gave in the gazette are being refuted.”

“We are expecting a positive outcome soon.”

Oval marketing manager Divani Singh told Fin24 via telephone on Thursday that Oval is still offering its courses and said the students are aware of the situation.

“We have had competitors trying to take our students, but they don’t want to go,” she said. “They are standing by us. Everything is going to come through (for Oval).”

Singh explained that the issue of fraud was a misunderstanding and had to do with miscommunication between the department and the college.

She explained that the information the department had on their system regarding Oval’s academic programmes was not correct, meaning that when they compared it to what Oval was advertising, there were discrepancies.

“The adverts were based on what Oval was offering,” she said. “We are convinced from our submission and counteracting the allegations against the claims that we will succeed in our appeal.”

The Oval Institute of Further Education remains unaffected by this action, said Singh.

Singh emphasised that the students were committed to remain enrolled until the appeal process was concluded.

“Judgment cannot be passed on a matter whilst it is under appeal,” she said. “The matter is still is continuing.”

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