South African vice-chancellors have warned the government that its "punitive" approach to restructuring higher education is alienating the sector and will undermine reform.
Njabulo Ndebele, vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town and chair of the vice-chancellors' committee, said that plans to merge most of the country's institutions had exposed "an alarming lack of national consensus about the role and future of higher education" and serious deficiencies in the sector's relationship with the government.
In May, ministers approved a restructuring plan to reduce the number of institutions from 36 to 21 - 11 universities, six technikons and four "comprehensive" institutions - and to create two institutes in provinces that lacked any.
Although education minister Kader Asmal has made some compromises over his proposals, there is still strong opposition. His plans, Professor Ndebele said, were "disproportionately dominating discussion" and had closed the doors on other options. "We seem set to take a plunge unsure of the depth of the pool," he said.