Points to ponder as University of the Future gathers steam

10 October 2023 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Lerato Maduna. Voice Cwenga Koyana. Read time 4 min.
Trevor Manuel delivered the keynote address at UCT’s University of the Future event.
Trevor Manuel delivered the keynote address at UCT’s University of the Future event.

The University of the Future (UoF) Steering Committee continued its engagement on the pioneering vision to create a modern University of Cape Town (UCT) as it ramped up input from staff and alumni on Thursday, 4 October. Former finance minister Trevor Manuel delivered the keynote address, asking reflective questions for the UoF steering committee and UCT stakeholders to consider. 

“The interesting opportunity that future thinking presents is that it allows us to drop the constraints of the present [It begins with] understanding the existential question of why universities exist. There are two points to consider in answering: either to advance knowledge or to produce graduates. The UoF has to contemplate its own role in society marked by the legacies of race and class,” Manuel said.


“When the preamble speaks about raising the living standards and quality of life of each person, it’s a continuous obligation.”

He added: “Second, when you look at the Constitution’s preamble, it makes several commitments about the kind of society we seek to construct: we must recognise that these commitments exist in perpetuity. When the preamble speaks about raising the living standards and quality of life of each person, it’s a continuous obligation. But 30 years on we have a problem because we have not socialised these values.”

Manuel then unpacked the chasm that exists in the domain of teaching and learning, given people’s experiences with the COVID-19 lockdown and the potential tension between in-contact and virtual learning.

“I want to suggest that we should examine why non-interaction needs to happen; are there courses that will require different kinds of engagement and space utilisation in the university of the future? There are a variety of responsibilities that fall within the domain of a university, outside of the realm of didactics, including the socialisation of young people by experiencing campus life. In South Africa, this aspect has to include the need to transcend the race, gender and class divisions.”

Attendees took part in a co-creation exercise to share ideas for the University of the Future project.

The next parameter which exists is one Manuel is familiar with: finance. On this, he was clear: “What will distinguish UCT from top-ranked universities is the size of endowments received. In the recent past, there’s been a displacement of funding for researchers for specific university projects with the expansion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). This creates stress on universities because on one hand your growth numbers have increased. As universities respond to the demand, this has an impact on the need for more teaching. This creates the need for a greater number of academics. The UoF will have to take this into account.”


“What kind of services do we expect of UCT and to what extent are our expectations met or not.”

Some of his other pertinent observations included taking stock of the institution’s location, as well as utilising emerging technologies. “The project is an opportunity to rethink parts of campus life and proximity of living areas in the City of Cape Town. We must accept that AI has to be utilised and taught at universities to distinguish the future from the past.”

The day was also dedicated to gathering attendees’ perspectives on what a “university of the future” looks like; with the audience treated to a panel discussion consisting of key UCT and City of Cape Town executives. Multi-award-winning jazz vocalist and composer Nomfundo Xaluva-Dyantyis was the guest performer.

“Why a university of the future, you may ask … the landscape of higher education is changing, not just for South Africa but the whole world. As the leading university in Africa, how are we navigating that change? There are three compelling factors we need to think about today. The first is access to higher education: we have to be thinking about an inclusive and sustainable university with more students, less space, less funding while retaining our excellence in teaching, learning and research,” said Professor Salome Maswime, the chairperson of the UoF Steering Committee.

“The world is adapting to new ways of teaching, new technologies and new pedagogies; new ways of doing research with the influence of Artificial intelligence (AI) and thirdly, universities are becoming more socially responsive ... becoming an extension of the communities we are part of; becoming socially relevant and contributing to social justice is becoming part of what we have to do.”

Vice-Chancellor interim Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy told attendees: “Just as our scholarship and research have evolved, we are now also thinking about how to view our spaces on campus: we need to apply our minds to some of the important questions in this shaping exercise and what kind of experiences each one had with UCT’s physical environment, in particular; what kind of services do we expect of UCT and to what extent are our expectations met or not.”

The panel discussion was chaired by UCT’s Professor Graham Fieggen and he was joined by fellow colleagues Professor Sue Harrison (Deputy-Vice Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation); UCT’s chief financial officer, Vincent Motholo; acting COO, Mughtar Parker; as well as alumni and MTN vice-president: Southern and East Africa, Yolanda Cuba; and the City of Cape Town’s research manager, Kaylene Simpson.

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