Chairperson of Council at Walter Sisulu University provides clarity on lecturers PHD qualifications

OCTOBER 13, 2016

Towards the end of 2015 a report published in the press on academic qualifications of two of its employees, Dr D Bessinger and Dr C Louw, came to the attention of the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) Council. The report suggested that Masters degrees obtained by the two academics from an American University might be questionable.  

Given the seriousness of the allegations, especially in an academic environment, WSU’s Council conducted an investigation to ascertain the validity of the allegations. The investigations revealed that the two staff members had enrolled for Master’s degrees in Engineering (M Eng) through distance learning at La Salle University in Louisiana, USA and had obtained their degrees two years later after completing the required course work. The two staff members thereafter registered at WSU for doctoral degrees in Education, which they obtained in 2012. Meanwhile it had transpired that La Salle University was neither licenced nor accredited to award academic degrees in the United States.

Because La Salle University was not accredited, Council resolved not to recognise Masters degrees obtained from that Institution, which means that WSU does not recognise the M Eng degrees that the two staff members had obtained. Council then considered the effect of the non-recognition of the La Salle qualifications on the doctoral degrees obtained from WSU. The investigations revealed that the staff members were accepted into the doctoral programme in Education via the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) programme.   

In essence the programme entails comparison of previous learning and experience of a learner with the learnng outcomes required for a specific qualification and the acceptance , for purposes of qualification, of that which meets the  set requirements.  In this case, in 2008, the University Faculty of Higher Education Committee resoved to allow the two academics to register for the Doctoral Degrees (Doctor of Education), on a five year programme, on condition that they completed certain research and course work.

Having completed their Doctoral degrees a year ahead of the set period (ie in four years) Messrs Bessinger and Louw were permitted, by the relevent University committes, to graduate. In 2012 they graduated in D. Ed, with approval of the relevant University Committees and Senate, and in terms of the RPL policy together with provisions of the Reference Manual for Administration of Postgraduate Studies of the Unversity.

While their Masters degrees had been part of their portfolios on previous training and experience presented at the time of their admossion to the Doctoral degrees, the admission to the doctoral degrees was not based on the Masters degrees as such, but on all previous learning and experience. This is in line with the provisions of the National Standards Bodies Regulations (No. 18787) of March 1998 issued in terms of the SAQA Act 58 of 1995.

The council considers conclusive the fact that the programme on which the two members of staff were permitted to register for doctoral degrees recognises, not only recognises specific degrees attained, but previous learning and experience acquired. In the end, the WSU council is satisfied that, at the time of their admission to the doctoral degrees the two academics had met the WSU requirements for the degrees to which they were admitted. Therefore their  Doctoral qualifications are valid.

Council recognIses that the two staff members and their families have suffered enormously while this cloud has been hanging over their heads. It confirms its satisfaction that the integrity of these staff members remains intact and trusts that they will continue to serve the University with distinction.