Managing records at higher education institutions: a case study of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus
MetadataShow full item record
Penn, Pennix and Coulson (1994:2) and King (1997:656) pointed out that many business transactions depend on the proper creation and maintenance of recorded information. The medium on which the recording of information could be done may be paper, microfilm, audiotapes, videotapes, photographs, slides, or any computer-readable medium, such as computer tapes or disks, compact disks and optical disks. Gold (1995:1) characterized an organization's management of its records as the 'corporate ... secret weapon' and 'the winning strategy' that give the organization the competitive edge. Yet few organizations, including universities, pay attention to the management of this corporate resource. Despite the fact that universities are continually being called upon to function in a businesses-like manner in order to be self-sustaining and to remain competitive, they overlook the enormous advantages that proper records management practices could contribute to the achievement of their objectives (Mnjama 2002:34; Procter 2002:49). Recently, the Council on Higher Education (2000:20) pointed out that higher education information systems in South Africa were inadequate. Proper records management could help universities to manage their information, efficiently fulfil their mandate, protect them from litigation, preserve their corporate memory, and foster accountability and good governance. The information contained in university records needs to be managed according to a methodical approach in order to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the universities in carrying out their mission. As universities carry out their mission they create various records. The core business of universities is learning, teaching, research and community development. The University of KwaZulu-Natal, in articulating its mission, states that it is 'committed to academic excellence, innovation in research and critical engagement with society' (University of KwaZulu-Natal 2005). Carrying out these activities produce records, which provide evidence that the University is carrying out its statutory functions. If such records are not properly managed or misplaced, then valuable evidence would be lost forever. Proper management means establishing systematic controls at every stage of the record's life cycle, in accordance with established principles and accepted models of records management. The University of Melbourne (2001) defines records management as the capturing and maintaining of accurate, complete, reliable and useable documentation of activities of an organization in order to meet legal, evidential, accountability and social/cultural requirements. Records pass through several phases in their life cycle. The primary purpose of a records management programme is to monitor records, regardless of type or format, to ensure that they pass efficiently, and at a minimum cost, through the creation, use, inactive storage and disposal or permanent retention phases (Djorka and Conneen 1984:22). In addition to facilitating the achievement of the University's mandate, the management of records at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is key to fulfilling the requirements of the Promotion of Access to Information Act No. 2 of 2000 (PAIA) (South Africa 2000) and facilitating the smooth running and integration of the merged universities of Natal and Durban-Westville. The merger is likely to bring about a lot of changes in relation to how the new institution would be run. As Ngulube (2004a:23) points out: 'Change brings uncertainty, but records make decision making during uncertainty possible. Changes that are not informed by reliable information are likely to be unsustainable, unjustifiable and lacking transparency.' In this regard, properly managed records may foster accountability, transparency and good governance in the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which resulted from the merged institutions. Furthermore, the passing of PAIA by the South African government makes the management of university records of great importance. The Act gives the public the right of access, upon request, to records held by public or private bodies, to the extent that a requested record is required for the exercise or protection of rights (Currie and Klaaren 2002:1). Compliance with the requirements of the Act means that the University must have in place a comprehensive records management programme that maps all the records of the University (Currie and Klaaren 2002). In this light, the proper management of university records at a South African institution becomes very important. Universities might find themselves in an embarrassing position if requested records are not found as a result of poor records systems where, as Taylor (2000:240) notes, litigation by aggrieved parties cannot be ruled out. Recently, a former University of Durban-Westville student made a court application demanding to see his examination scripts (UKZN rejects marks allegations 2004). Although, the student eventually lost his case at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, the case demonstrates the possibly consequence of not providing information timeously. Organizations that manage their records well reap immediate benefits in terms of being able to utilize all available information resources for competitive advantage. Kemoni and Wamukoya (2000:125) state that effective records management systems provide information required for the proper functioning of organizations, including universities. On the other hand, poor records management can be risky to organizations. Djorka and Conneen (1984:22) summarize the consequences of poor records management as follows: '[I]n an institution where paperwork is poorly managed, the flow of records through the life cycle is retarded, chaotic, or non-existent. Records and the information they contain are difficult to retrieve, and costly duplication of paperwork is a frequent occurrence. The net effect of poor management is a decrease in the efficiency of the institution and an inflation of its operating costs.'
The following license files are associated with this item: