09 February 2006

Is UCT walking the talk with student development?

The University of Cape Town aspires to be an outstanding teaching and research university located in (and therefore relevant to) Africa. A strong commitment to this vision is needed if UCT wants to realise this aspiration as it is now generally accepted that UCT's standing with regard to referenced published material and other academic frames of reference is not necessarily as strong as it should be. The publication of peer-reviewed academic material is a key indicator of institutional intellectual prowess.

The reasons for the low (and apparently dwindling) rate of publications at South African institutions have been the focus of some research and speculation. Notwithstanding the complex reasons for this phenomenon, the solution is surely obvious - ensure that more UCT students aspire to become internationally-recognised academics, thus actively expanding UCT's home-grown core of excellence.

Engendering a new excitement around demonstrating intellectual prowess, the power of research and the prestige of a career as an internationally-respected academic lie at the very beginning of the higher education process. It is with the development and encouragement of young students. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is a strong student development agenda needed more urgently to build self esteem, self confidence and an appreciation of relevant elite modes of thought and excellence than in South African higher education in 2005. The reasons for this have to do with the critical role student development plays in unshackling minds. They are historical and obvious.

It is therefore a matter of great concern that the Student Development and Services Department at UCT is under significant pressure to restructure and rationalise in a manner which will inevitably make basic student "services" and not student "development" the benchmark for delivery after the fashion of "bargain basement" higher education. It is a drive which seems to ignore aspects of student "development" typical of prestigious institutions which seek to empower students and bond them into an academic culture.

Clearly a strategy for the calibration of aspects of student "development" needs to be well designed to achieve the necessary goals, but would conceivably include a programme of short, open seminars on socially relevant topics such as: HIV/AIDS, racism, gender discrimination, xenophobia, crime, freedom of speech, disability discrimination, etc. In addition, there needs to be a strong programme to underpin "fun" research - which would preferably have outputs which fuel lightweight but vociferous and perhaps sensational social controversy. The purpose of this programme would be to draw young students into the development process through inevitable discussion of the merits, quality and types of research being used and thereby encourage an identification with the UCT research community.

The process of calibration and the introduction of new programmes would amount to a lot of work on the part of management. It also has financial implications, which need to be set off against social and corporate partnerships. Critically though, this sort of vision can never be achieved without the support of senior executive leadership at UCT which, in spite of UCT's stated vision, appears to be lacking.

If UCT is to remain true to its international vision it makes sense to use its student-development arm to encourage organic development of strong intellectual minds through well-calibrated development initiatives, combined with strong student support and services. This will bridge young students into a competitive, intellectual spirit and encourage an aspiration towards a strong academic career. It will provide the vital nexus between the region's young, strong intellectual potential and the powerhouse of UCT's intellectual strength.

If UCT truly wants to aspire to be recognised as an outstanding teaching and research university within the context of international higher education it needs to very seriously consider the importance of walking the talk when it comes to student development programmes.

Michael Watermeyer
Director, Disability Unit

Mandate renewed

The last few weeks have seen our innovative State of the Student Movement Address invigorate members of our movement into robust debate on the most pertinent challenges that face us. We have used this opportunity both to inform the student body of what has happened, and what is in the pipeline.

It emerged that the issue of transformation is indeed pivotal in strengthening us as a movement. Transformation is less about race than it is about ideology. We also heed the warning that we must proceed with deliberate speed but with caution so as to ensure that we take everyone along with us.

Another issue that was consistently raised was the Jammie Shuttle, in particular the alleged conduct of some drivers and a need for shelters at the stops.

On the first point, we have requested, as we have for the Campus Protection Services officers, that they have their names visible at all times. On the second point, our residence coordinator, Benedict Phiri, and our day houses coordinator, Gugu Mayisela, will urgently attend to this. The issue of the new academic timetable was also raised. We still maintain that a number of questions need to be answered before the implementation of the calendar, particularly the balance of teaching and research. The 2003/4 SRC's position was that the new calendar could only be implemented in 2006 if the comprehensive concerns that were raised were satisfactorily attended to. We are aware that there appears to be a subtle implementation of the calendar already.

We have also been mandated to negotiate with the responsible authorities that the times for the opening of the main library be extended to 24 hours, failing which it should close at midnight.

We are also concerned at the rate at which the university is increasing fees and we hope to engage the university on this matter.

This is in no way a comprehensive articulation of the issues that members of our movement have raised. These meetings have given us the momentum to speed up change with renewed determination, sparing neither effort nor conviction. I want to especially thank all members who turned up for these meetings, approving the creed that the people must govern. Members of our movement can be assured that the issues raised are being attended to.


The alliance of staff and student bodies called for and convened a meeting with the Senior Leadership Group at this decisive moment in the history of this institution on issues of transformation. It is hoped that as a community we will emerge stronger from this. Too many times in life we are faced with situations where it is far easier to make peace but it is so tragic how we always choose the more difficult option of war. I sincerely hope that at all times we act in the best interests of the university.

As part of our transformation drive, dictated by the SRC constitution and Students Transformation Charter, adopted by the Student Assembly last year, we have called all house committees, student societies, and SRC development agencies to submit to the SRC their transformation strategies. The SRC secretary general, Comrade Yershen Pillay, will represent the organisational report in the next sitting of Student Assembly, with the aspiration of tabling for debate the Student Leadership Transformation Charter being developed by the able SRC transformation officer, Andrea Africa.

Township Debate

On April 23, I was honoured to be invited by the Debating Society to attend the finals of the Township Debating League. I found the topic the young people in high school debated intriguing. They debated whether or not the government should force institutions of higher learning to take a minimum percentage of students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. These young minds grappled with the topic with commendable precision. I was further impressed that the leadership of the Debating Society asked the students to sing the national anthem to impress identity and unity of purpose at the end of the tournament. It is interesting that at UCT we do not sing the national anthem at graduation or similar functions and yet we say we are an African institution.

A lot of work lies ahead of us. In unity of purpose let us sail together to the agreed destination, our holistic development as young people of our native land.

A good friend of mine wrote an e-mail to me last week saying: "Son of the soil, in all that matters you have swum half the ocean; keep your will strong and be brave." May I say the same to all you sons and daughters of the soil.

Wishing you a wonderful week.

Democratically yours

Nqobizitha "Fire" Mlilo
SRC President 2004/5

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