Turning its gaze towards the future, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has committed itself to being more than just an institution that produces fit-for-purpose graduates, but rather an incubator for well-rounded and resilient change-makers.
During a recent virtual staff engagement session, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and members of the UCT executive introduced staff members to the specific goals that have been identified for each of the university’s core functions. These goals form part of the new Vision 2030 institutional strategy that is being finalised.
Providing holistic, innovative, future-oriented education is one of the goals that has been identified for teaching and learning at UCT.
“The idea with this goal is that UCT is not just producing graduates that are going to be working in a particular niche in the labour market, but that it is producing persons who are going to have a role in being critical thinkers, in transforming their world,” said Associate Professor Lange.
In line with the #Unleash tagline that underpins Vision 2030, Lange explained that the massive transformative purpose of the teaching and learning core function is to unleash the potential in students to act as resilient agents of change for themselves and society.
Creating favourable conditions
Attaining this goal will depend heavily on creating a favourable environment for this type of education to take place. During her presentation, Lange highlighted and unpacked six initial conditions that need to be met:
Lange pointed out that UCT already meets many of these conditions and that those that require action – such as updating resources and infrastructure – provide the university with an opportunity to embrace greater excellence.
Towards a blended-learning future
A concern that came to the fore during the question-and-answer session was whether universities as we know them still have a place in an overwhelmingly digital era. This concern takes on particular poignancy in the wake of emergency remote teaching and learning measures put in place during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Lange responded to this by saying that unless universities embrace online teaching and other forms of digital education, they will indeed be overtaken and eventually become obsolete.
“The future is [however] far more complex and nuanced than just going online.”
“The future is [however] far more complex and nuanced than just going online,” she added. “We are being very mindful about the impact this will have on the students and on staff.”
As part of the Vision 2030 goals for teaching and learning, UCT will aim to provide a blended academic landscape, which means students will receive a combination of online and face-to-face educational experiences.
Adding to Lange’s response, Professor Phakeng said: “We don’t envisage UCT becoming an open distance learning institution. That is not our future. We are a different kind of university. But we do see a future that is blended where we will use both online and face-to-face [teaching and learning].”
Fourth Industrial Revolution in context
While the COVID-19 lockdown certainly presented UCT with an opportunity to expedite the transition to online teaching and learning, it also highlighted the fact that the university is relatively far behind in terms of adopting technology.
While this is an issue that requires immediate attention – especially in terms of preparing graduates for joining the workforce of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Lange said that it has to be done within UCT’s specific context.
An important consideration that emerged from the Futures Think Tank, which helped inform the Vision 2030 strategy, was the fact that the notion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution should be viewed through the lens of South Africa’s challenges, needs and demands.
“We need to take into account the reality in which we operate, the students that we have, the issues that need to be present for us to be able to do all these things and how much experimentation we can do in order to work in all these areas and bring our students and our staff with us,” Lange said.
As the term “massive transformative purpose” suggests, unleashing the potential of students to act as resilient agents of change for themselves and society is a golden thread that has to run through teaching and learning – from the executive down to department level.
This could raise red flags for some who might fear an approach of micromanagement on the one hand or uncertain objectives on the other.
In terms of the latter, once the strategy has been approved, implementation plans will be developed for different sections of the strategy and will include clear and measurable key performance areas.
In response to the former, Lange said that every department will approach the strategy in a way that serves their community and stays true to the creative expression in their particular environment.
“Each department will have the opportunity to translate the notion of unleashing the potential of our students to be resilient agents of change into their specific environment,” she said. “What does this mean for a lawyer, for an engineer, for a social scientist, for a humanist?
“What, in other words, are the things that you will need to change, stop doing and invent to bring us closer to achieving this goal?”
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