Reflecting on the past few months

20 August 2019 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

We are into the last week of term three of the academic year, and I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the past few months at our institution. We had a successful July graduation ceremony, and we are very proud of our graduates for their achievements – particularly Denis Goldberg, who received an honorary doctorate in recognition of his invaluable contribution to South Africa. July also marked the one-year anniversary of my appointment as vice-chancellor, and I want to thank the capable and hardworking deputy vice-chancellors, the Leadership Lekgotla and the entire executive team for their ongoing support. My appreciation also goes out to all students and staff who have helped to make real change happen at our institution.

I’m excited that we have joined forces with the University of Bristol to launch a “Researchers without Borders” PhD programme. This new partnership will offer co-tutored PhDs in which students can work on research projects that draw on the resources of both institutions. The programme is focused on early career researchers and has great potential to support future leaders and shapers in research and society.

Three of our researchers were recognised for their outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology and innovation in South Africa at the NSTF-South32 Awards: Professor Alison Lewis, Dr Hlumani Ndlovu and Professor Martine Visser. Congratulations to them once again! Researchers of their calibre show that we are making progress in our goal to be an inclusive, engaged and research-intensive African university.

I was very fortunate to be invited, with a select group of vice-chancellors and university presidents from across the world, to participate in the inaugural international summit of the U7 Alliance of World Universities in Paris. This group is convinced that universities have a key role to play as global actors who engage in discussions that lead to concrete action to address pressing worldwide challenges.

In June I welcomed staff members who joined UCT over the preceding 12 months, and what a pleasure it was to interact with our new colleagues. My message to them was that universities become great because of the people they hire. The welcome lunch will be a recurring event to celebrate the arrival of new academic and professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff.

Food insecurity remains a challenge for many students across the country, and our institution is no exception. As a socially responsive university, UCT’s annual phonathon, hosted by the Development and Alumni Department, raised funds for the UCT Food Programme, which currently provides 600 lunches daily. My heartfelt gratitude goes to all the staff, students and alumni who generously donated and continue to make the food programme viable.

In commemorating Youth Day this year, I had the privilege of being invited as a keynote speaker at the fourth annual Tsietsi Mashinini Memorial Lecture in Soweto, Johannesburg, in which I highlighted the importance of African languages in education. South Africa’s Language in Education policy recognises 11 official languages and encourages multilingualism, but while the policy is excellent in principle, in practice we still do not exercise the freedom that learners like Tsietsi Donald Mashinini fought for on 16 June 1976.

Student entrepreneurs scooped prizes totalling R80 000 and six months of mentorship during the 9 May finals of The Pitch. This is an annual student-led competition run by UCT’s Academic Representatives Council and the Office of the Vice-Chancellor.

Another group of UCT students impressed the judges with their futuristic business concepts at the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition with big ideas for their own businesses. The competition aims to identify the top student entrepreneurs at each of South Africa’s public universities, to recognise and showcase their businesses, and to attract investment into their enterprises. The winners proceeded to the second, regional leg of the competition which will take place on 22 August 2019.

On 3 July we officially launched the R100-million, state-of-the-art, “green” academic conference centre at the Graduate School of Business (GSB). It is my hope that it will be a meeting place for thought leadership to address society’s critical issues. The conference centre also fills the growing need for a large venue to accommodate local and international events focused on research and academic themes.

We congratulated the first 100 awardees of the inaugural Vice-Chancellorʼs Research Scholarship, which will fully support and develop the institution’s top young researchers to position them at the forefront of research into society’s most pressing challenges. These excellence awards recognise exceptional academic achievements among UCT’s master’s and doctoral students registered for research degrees, and cover the full cost of attendance at UCT.

The young researchers selected for the institution’s 2030 Future Leaders Programme were hosted for an intimate dinner at Glenara on 28 May. The programme, launched last year, is evidence of our institution’s commitment to nurturing up-and-coming scholars from across faculties with a view to securing sustainable future leadership for the university.

To celebrate Africa Month this year, we held a number of events across the university aimed at educating the UCT community about our different cultures and experiences. The flagship event was a public symposium on the role of young African leaders in pan-Africanism and regional integration. The theme of the symposium was aligned to the African Union agenda 2063: “The Africa We Want”. We don’t only want to be the best in Africa, but also the best for Africa by doing excellent research with impact for the benefit of Africa and Africans.

Last year we established the Futures Think Tank under the leadership of Professor Alison Lewis, dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, with a view to helping the institution remain relevant far into the future. In July we introduced #Unleash to the university, which aims to engender excitement around the generation of ideas that will effectively help realise the institution’s full potential. We are currently planning a roadshow to faculties and PASS departments to get the UCT community unleashed into thinking, engaging and involved in creating a UCT of the future.

In May we welcomed thousands of prospective students, parents, guardians and the broader community to our annual UCT Open Day. It’s a day where we open up our campus and showcase the best that our faculties and departments have to offer. We introduced them to UCT and showed them how we teach, what we stand for and what they can achieve by studying at our university.

I had the pleasure of giving a talk to learners and teachers at Westerford High School, one of our feeder schools, about the importance of achieving excellence through transformation. In July I visited Langa township with a team from the Admissions Office to ensure that students who have not had an opportunity to complete online applications to study at UCT were assisted. One message that I have been stressing in my visits to communities and schools is that after the challenges of the past few years at UCT, our mission is to build an inclusive and united institution which can ground and make sustainable our new transformative vision.

I wish our students renewed energy and determination as they get on with their studies, and I want to extend a similar word of encouragement to all staff as we successfully implement various programmes to take the academic project forward.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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