The COVID-19 pandemic is another in a series of post-2015 disruptions that have seen the University of Cape Town (UCT) forging new, innovative ways of operating. As such, UCT is well placed to meet the challenges of an uncertain future, said Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. She was speaking at the first of six virtual engagements with staff to present UCT’s proposed Vision 2030.
The first engagement, hosted on Tuesday, 28 July, included staff in pay class 11 and above. The five engagements to come will cover the remaining pay classes, with the last session planned for 10 September.
Vision 2030 is built on three inseparable values: excellence, transformation and sustainability. Its four goals are:
The transformative principles that infuse Vision 2030 aim to redress inequality and build social justice through targeted strategies that will return dignity to and amplify voice and agency in the UCT community.
Of the use of ‘Afrika’ in goal two, Phakeng said, “Throughout the document we deliberately use Afrika. This is to reclaim the original spelling. But more than that, it’s also to retain Afrikan agency, to use it for good, not just for the good of the institution, but for the benefit of our society and the world.”
Phakeng continued, “This is not just a presentation but an opportunity for us to engage as we work on a future as the university.”
Her co-presenters were deputy vice-chancellors Professor Loretta Feris, Professor Sue Harrison and Associate Professor Lis Lange, as well as UCT’s chief operating officer, Dr Reno Morar.
Each discussed the transformative principles and approaches to the four goals underpinning Vision 2030 as these affect their portfolios.
While the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has made it difficult to imagine what the country and the world might be like in 2030, Phakeng said that UCT wants to harness the energy of change and lead that process. This, she said, is core to its evolution as a knowledge institution and its responsibilities to graduates who are resilient, able to cope with changing work and skills requirements, and able to help build a just and equal society.
“We have to keep reinventing ourselves.”
“We have to keep reinventing ourselves,” she said.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us; we are battling COVID-19 and this is changing the needs of those we serve,” Phakeng added. The pandemic has “catapulted the university five years into the future” with blended and distance learning, staff working from home, curriculum renewals and reforms, virtual research conferences and collaborations, changes to the university’s physical infrastructure and a range of other developments.
She emphasised UCT’s commitment to the values that underpin Vision 2030.
“We should be pursuing excellence – even as we understand its complexity and that it is not always innocent and never benign as it can marginalise [people]. More importantly, excellence doesn’t happen on its own. Excellence is enabled. But we need to make sure that it shows up in all its diversity.”
Transformation, she said, will strengthen excellence by ensuring equity and participation in UCT’s success, the foundations of its sustainability.
“As we look towards the future, we must think not only of the problems of the past that affect us now. We have to look beyond our current context”, Phakeng said, “because as we grapple with the problems of the now, the world around us is changing.”
The Futures Think Tank, led by Professor Alison Lewis, the dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, also foregrounded many of the themes the Vision 2030 task team worked with.
“Futures thinking helps us to think through how we respond to change. But the focus has changed to how we should respond – and how we should lead the change,” said Phakeng.
The events of the past five years have shown how disruptive it can be.
“But it can also enhance what we do; it can make it more impactful. But to lead the change, we must initiate the change ourselves.”
Leading companies such as Nokia and Kodak resisted changes brought by the digital revolution. Now they are history, she said. The lessons for UCT and higher education are clear.
Universities are operating in environments that are increasingly unstable, unpredictable and competitive at the same time.
“To lead the change, we must initiate the change ourselves.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest in the series of disruptive forces that universities have experienced,” noted Phakeng. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents profound advancements in science and technology and has important implications for society, affluence, business and higher education institutions.
“The demands that come with digital transformation and its implications for lifelong learning, the demand for new forms of knowledge, new skills and competencies are some of the major drivers of change. We must be innovative to remain relevant, competitive and sustainable.”
She said that leading institutions that do not proactively initiate change run the risk of losing their edge and becoming irrelevant.
“But there’s no other university on this continent that’s better placed to make the most of this opportunity. Because of the strength that we’ve developed over the years and resilience in the capacity and human capital that we have in this university … we can face the future with strength – and Vision 2030 creates a platform for us to do that.”
After the virtual engagements with staff have been completed, the proposed Vision 2030 will be presented to Senate for approval.
“And then we can get on with the work; we’re not waiting for things,” said Phakeng in closing.
“But it has to be a team effort.”
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