Finding stability in the face of pressure

28 May 2002
IN HIS first Half-Yearly Review for 2002 – and the second in the series – Vice-Chancellor Professor Njabulo Ndebele outlined the path that UCT would have to follow to ensure its stability as it contends with a range of internal and external pressures.

He started his address to staff last week by looking at some local, national and international events that have acted upon UCT over the past six months. This included the recent report of the National Working Group (NWG) on the restructuring of the higher education system; the crisis in Zimbabwe; and the controversy around HIV/AIDS.

The impacts on the University of the September 11 attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre last year have also been manifold, Ndebele indicated. In his report to Council (reported on in this issue) following a fundraising visit to North America late last year, Ndebele pointed to the potential cuts of donations from the United States; the loss of buying power as the Rand plummeted in exchange value; the diminishing of overseas employment opportunities for local graduates; and, on a more optimistic note, the increase in international student applications, among other things.

Ndebele then turned to the local front, specifically the recommendations of the NWG that proposed that UCT, the University of Stellenbosch and Cape Technikon should remain "separate and independent institutions", while neighbours the University of the Western Cape and Peninsula Technikon be merged.

"The reaction to the recommended mergers beyond the Western Cape has been varied," Ndebele said. "Among those unhappy [with the recommendations] is a strong view that the mergers involve a large number of historically disadvantaged institutions, while strong historically advantaged institutions are perceived to have been left 'untouched'," he added. "In the light of the strident outcry against the report in some quarters, we can either celebrate this or we can go into throes of guilt."

The latter is not an option, Ndebele emphasised. "We need to show greater conviction in our position in the nation through a purposeful pursuit of our strategic objectives."

Ndebele also commented on the successes of the Audit and Integration of Management Systems (AIMS) project, specifically around the appointment of a number of executive directors. "A report to Council from the University's Finance Committee indicates that we may be able to balance our budget a lot sooner than originally planned," he noted, adding that the University would have to continue with its current fiscal discipline.

"My challenge will be to ensure that the various initiatives launched under the auspices of the project are sustainable, and to this end they must be embedded within the institution." These challenges include the building of strong leadership (deans and heads of departments) and changing the UCT staff profile.

Ndebele also mentioned the growth in student intake – "UCT preserves its reputation for having the most diverse and talented student body in the country" – and in media coverage for the University.

Of more concern, however, were the recent departures of Deputy Vice-Chancellors Prof Dan Ncayiyana and Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, and the imminent retirement of Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wieland Gevers. "But what seemed a setback may also be seen as an opportunity for UCT to have an almost brand new team of deputy vice-chancellors."

His goals for the immediate future include strengthening ties with other African tertiary institutions, as well as an intensified fundraising campaign, Ndebele said. "But despite these external commitments, I plan to retain contact with various sectors of the University community," he assured the audience in closing.

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