As the University of Cape Town (UCT) pursues its transformation agenda, it must reaffirm its pride in its position as a leading South African and African place of higher learning – and set an example for other institutions grappling with similar challenges.
“The values of our democratic constitution must be evident in every fibre of our university,” said Professor Loretta Feris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Transformation, adding that UCT “must be a laboratory for a changing world”.
To this end, during 2017 the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC), which is driving the transformation process and which reports directly to Feris, spent time preparing the groundwork to realise the goals of UCT’s Strategic Planning Framework 2016 - 2020.
Last year, 2018, was a year for implementation.
According to Feris, the overarching areas on which the framework focuses attention are institutional culture change, UCT’s identity as an African university, research, teaching and learning, and social responsiveness.
This is informed by Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng’s own vision, and foregrounds inter-related principles such as transformation, excellence and sustainability.
“Sustainable transformation requires transformation that is intentional and impactful,” Feris explained.
The work during 2018 has and will continue to have an impact. This includes significant achievements in the areas of governance, policies and processes; mental health and sexual violence; support and access for students; support and access for staff; and place and space.
Governance, policies and processes
In 2018 the Framework for Implementation to support the Strategic Plan, which informs the transformation work of the OIC, was also developed. Governance structures were tweaked, and the portfolio tackled the critical task of developing the capacity and support that Feris said is essential if the strategic goals are to be successfully implemented.
Another change made was that the Employment Equity Forum (EEF) and Transformation Forum (TF) are now subcommittees of the Institutional Forum. This allows for better oversight of the two committees.
“Sustainable transformation requires transformation that is intentional and impactful.”
The Transformation Committees (TCs), which are key to driving change at faculty and department level, fall under the TF. These staff members, who serve voluntarily on their respective TCs, have enjoyed extra support and training which will continue into 2019. A total of 317 employment equity (EE) representatives received training, along with, 22 Agents of Change Education (ACEs) student peer mentors, 15 survivor support officers (SSOs) , 11 standby advisers and 15 mediators.
There was also some work done, Feris said, on finalising a framework to allow TCs to assist with issues of composition, constitution and terms of reference, and to improve consistency across faculties and departments.
This year the plan is to launch UCT’s first Transformation Award in order to celebrate and acknowledge the work of individuals and/or TCs.
Employment Equity, another key focus area, saw the EEF drive the development and submission of a new EE plan for the period from 2019 to 2021. This plan was approved by Council at its final meeting last year.
Feris explained that it builds on the existing strategy and is aimed at attracting, engaging, growing and retaining the kind of diverse skills the university needs to achieve an institutional culture grounded in inclusivity, respect and excellence.
Next up is the revision of existing development and retention strategies, which will see UCT pay attention to achieving a consistent approach for developing the academic pipeline to boost the number of specifically African black academics.
“However, one cannot assume that when the workforce profile is diverse, the institutional culture automatically becomes inclusive or that the power dynamics have shifted,” she warned.
“One cannot assume that when the workforce profile is diverse, the institutional culture automatically becomes inclusive or that the power dynamics have shifted.”
Finally, a South African unconscious bias tool is being developed to help raise self-awareness of and counter the biases and prejudices that influence processes like recruitment. The tool will be piloted this year.
Mental health and tackling sexual violence
Feris said the adoption last year of the Mental Health Policy signifies that UCT is beginning to better understand the impact of mental health on the student experience, “and on academic performance”.
“The university has and is working to strengthen its support services, raise awareness and boost advocacy,” she said.
To help achieve this, a medical practitioner was appointed as the new director of Student Wellness Services (SWS), a multidisciplinary mental health team was put in place, and new walk-in services were established on satellite campuses.
Importantly, the unacceptable six-week waiting period for appointments was eliminated with the introduction of an entry point triage system. The system determines priority of treatment based on the severity of the students’ condition.
On sexual violence, Feris said work is being done on the setting up of essential systems and processes to tackle the issue.
The OIC developed an online sexual violence and discrimination case management tool which provides an end-to-end case management service to track the efficacy of the university’s response service, gathering data on repeat offenders, providing status updates to survivors, and allowing for anonymous reporting.
“The tool will be launched during a campus-wide gender-based violence (GBV) campaign this year.”
A specialised tribunal for sexual offences was established last year and will see a core group of specialised proctors preside over sexual offences involving students and/or staff. A sexuality policy was also adopted last year, while consultations for one on gender are nearing the finish line.
Students and staff
“UCT has come to understand that the everyday experience of students and staff shapes the way in which they feel included (or not), and can have a profound impact on academic and career success,” Feris stressed.
“UCT has come to understand that the everyday experience of students and staff shapes the way in which they feel included (or not), and can have a profound impact on academic and career success.”
This experience is shaped by a range of factors, including demographics, interventions for success and personal interactions.
“One of the primary measures of success for transformation is to improve diversity of the student and staff profile in terms of demographics, economic status and disability,” she said.
In 2018, UCT was home to 27 907 students, 7 040 (25%) of whom were black South Africans, 12 235 (44%) generic black (black South Africans, coloured, Indian and Chinese), 18% who identified racially as “other”, and 22% white.
Women constituted just less than 53% of the student body, while 14 individuals identified as transgender or other gender.
The proportion of the overall workforce profile from designated groups (black people, women, and people with disabilities who are South African citizens by birth, descent or naturalisation) was 74%, with generic black people accounting for 68% of that number.
Experience is another major area to measure success, according to Feris, and the OIC trained 22 ACEs peer mentors and conducted 34 workshops across faculties to assist with inclusivity capacity-building. The training and workshops dealt with the intersectional areas of HIV, gender-based violence (GBV), class, privilege, marginalisation and sexual diversity.
The OIC also trained student leaders how to identify and safely intervene in instances of imminent violence and, through the SSOs, conducted training in residences about sexual violence and GBV.
Support last year for disabled staff and students, said Feris, included a review of UCT’s Disability Policy and a focus on accessible education and buildings. This resulted in improvements including an increase in computers and assistive software for visually-impaired and blind students, and adaptations to teaching and learning to accommodate sign language.
Last year UCT employed 75 permanent staff with disabilities and the goal is to increase this number to 107 by 2021, she added.
Efforts to improve food security on the campus saw the formation of a Food Security Task Team and a pilot programme of 600 free packed lunches for students and staff.
“Efforts to improve food security on the campus saw the formation of a Food Security Task Team and a pilot programme of 600 free packed lunches for students and staff.”
Turning to financial aid, Feris said provision of funding to eligible students remains one of UCT’s key priorities.
According to a preliminary, unaudited analysis, R1.2 billion was made available for financial assistance at undergraduate (R850 million) and postgraduate (R360 million) levels last year. A further 1 000 students, 10 of whom were postgraduates, received GAP funding which UCT provides from its own coffers for the so-called “missing middle”.
Place, space and acknowledgement
A focus on place and space has seen the Naming of Buildings and Works of Art committees lead renaming processes, re-curation and conduct several discussions.
“The intention of the Place and Space focus is for people to feel included and, where they are not included, safe enough to ask for change,” said Feris.
In 2017, the Naming of Buildings Committee (NoBC) recommended that Memorial Hall be renamed in honour of Sarah Baartman. Since then, the bulk of the NoBC’s work has been focused on a consultative process with the Khoe community. The NoBC also recommended that Council approve the amendment of the existing signage to reflect the correct Khoe spelling of the name of the “Hoerikwaggo” building, changing it to Huri Huri ǂoaxa.
The NoBC has also established a sub-committee that is busy identifying buildings for potential renaming.
Last year the Works of Art Committee (WoAC) curated and re-curated a number of spaces at UCT, hosted events and acquired several new artworks.
Larger-scale re-curation projects included Molly Blackburn Hall and the New Lecture Theatre building, while events included a performative cleansing ritual in Molly Blackburn Hall, debates on Willie Bester’s Saartjie Baartman sculpture, and a public discussion between Dr Nomusa Makhubu and Associate Professor Jay Pather.
Transformation work has also included looking back at ways in which UCT has participated in injustice or unfairness: A collection of skeletons housed in the Faculty of Health Sciences included 11 which were deemed to have been unethically obtained in the 1920s.
Limited documentation indicates that these people died in the 19th century and that at least nine of them were probably Khoe and San people captured and forced to work as slaves on a farm in Sutherland, in the Northern Cape. The skeletons appear to have been removed by the owner in the 1920s and sent to UCT.
“Once documentation was found that connected the skeletons to likely descendants, UCT began investigating how they could be laid to rest near their families.”
Once documentation was found that connected the skeletons to likely descendants, UCT began investigating how they could be laid to rest near their families. The reburial process, which is led by Feris and the OIC, is under way and is likely to conclude this year.
Plans for 2019
“As we look ahead in 2019, the task now is to measure our progress,” said Feris, adding that this responsibility lies with a working group of staff and students established last year.
Data from surveys conducted in both years will help establish a baseline to allow faculties and departments to identify priority areas for policy, education, awareness and cultural interventions.
She identified the following objectives as among those that have been set within the transformation portfolio:
“We look forward to deepening our efforts to ensure the inclusion, development and success of all staff and students at UCT,” Feris said.
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