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Universities association faces uncertain future

Temporary closure of southern African body as major grant ends

An association for southern African universities has been forced to temporarily close shop after the expiry of a six-year grant.

The chairman of the Southern African Regional Universities Association, Ihron Rensburg, told the organisation’s members in a circular dated 14 December that the grant was a major source of funding and that SARUA would not be renewing the contracts of five of its six members of staff. The Netherlands government allocated the grant.

Piyushi Kotecha, SARUA’s chief executive officer, is the only one who has kept her job after the end of the grant left the organisation without sufficient funds.

“I have to report that to date we have been unsuccessful in securing new funds,” Rensburg wrote in the circular.

The UK’s Department for International Development and the African Development Bank are two of the five major international donors to which the regional body submitted proposals.

In an attempt to avert complete closure, SARUA has contracted Wits Enterprise, an intellectual property commercialisation company of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, to perform its financial and administrative duties.

Wits Enterprise will continue the search for funding for the organisation, which is currently not operational, according to an official who answered SARUA telephones last week.

“From this limited base [Wits Enterprise], we will be able to continue fund-raising efforts, and conduct our very necessary strategic planning exercise,” Rensburg said in the circular to members.

Rensburg declined to comment further. He referred all questions to Kotecha, who said she will not be available until mid-February.