Dear members of the campus community
On Council’s behalf we hope that you are all safe and healthy and that you have found a way to navigate an incredibly challenging year for all of us. The 2020 year is fast approaching its conclusion. We are constantly reminded of how important it is to show compassion towards each other and to ourselves, and I would like to encourage all of us to continue to do so as we engage with each other at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
In the period before our Council meeting on Saturday, 17 October 2020, there were a number of engagements between Council and university stakeholders – both internally and externally. Before providing the important feedback on some of the discussions at the Council meeting, I wish to share some updates on these engagements.
As Chair of Council I met with the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, where we reflected on the challenges facing our sector, such as the financial outlook for 2021 and the ways in which the university, the higher education sector and the government department could continue work together.
Council was pleased to note a report of a vibrant Leadership Lekgotla retreat held on the eve of the Council meeting. This was a significant day in the life of UCT, with the leadership team (which includes the Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Chief Operating Officer, the Registrar, the Deans and the Executive Directors) discussing key strategic considerations for the UCT of the future – looking at new ways of being and new ways of doing things, and focusing on how UCT would not only continue being the best in Africa but the best for Africa. The virtual room was filled with excitement and enthusiasm. I was pleased to have been invited to attend this retreat and was struck by the personal and leadership commitment that came out of the session. This bodes well for the future of UCT, its direction and continued relevance in changing times.
The Vice-Chancellor and I have met also with the Deans individually. The Deans are a significant layer of leadership, heading up the core business units of the university. All the meetings left me with a sense of a team that is deeply committed to Vision 2030 and is attuned to institutional challenges and the transformation imperative.
Importantly, in the past three months since the new Council members have come into office, we have witnessed the significant commitment of students and staff, who have shown extraordinary resolve in the face of the challenges we have faced due to COVID-19. Our staff members have worked incredibly hard, and Council records its deep appreciation for the efforts of all.
Our recent Council meeting, the second since we were constituted in July, was fruitful. The chairpersons of Council sub-committees will henceforth be meeting routinely ahead of Council plenaries in order to better integrate the work of committees that report to Council. We have had one such meeting of the sub-committee chairpersons, and it proved to be a very useful mechanism to support the work of Council.
I share feedback on the items discussed below.
Following the resignation of Councillor Dave Bryant, who has taken up a position in Parliament, the City of Cape Town has appointed Councillor Aimee Kuhl for the remainder of the term, until 30 June 2024. Cllr Kuhl has been a councillor at the City of Cape Town since August 2016. She has served on the Sustainability and Resilience Committee and is the deputy chair of the Leadership and Development portfolio. She is a UCT humanities alumnus.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, gave a strategic overview of the higher education landscape; Vision 2030 update; the VC’s institutional, staff, alumni, global and external engagements; and UCT’s phased return to campus. Her report included a reflection on transformation matters, an update on the Leadership Lekgotla retreat, vacancies at senior leadership level and UCT’s continued good performance in the international rankings.
UCT plan for accelerated transformation
The proposal for an action plan to accelerate staff transformation at UCT flows from the recently published Report from the Ministerial Task Team on the recruitment, retention and progression of black South African academic staff; conversations that the Vice-Chancellor had with stakeholders to better understand specific barriers; and a request by Council for a plan that speaks to the identification of current gaps in transformation and ways to address them.
The action plan focuses on the need to accelerate the recruitment of black South African staff, in particular, at the level of the professoriate. It also acknowledges the need to attract black South African postgraduate students to feed into a pipeline to be considered for academic positions. The throughput rate of black South African postgraduate students is an important part of the plan to accelerate transformation.
Sexual and gender-based violence
The regular update, which is presented to Council annually, was shared by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Loretta Feris. UCT takes all reports of gender-based violence (GBV) seriously. Every report of GBV is included in the regular report covering the period 1 January to 31 August 2020, regardless of the location of the incident. This intentional approach ensures that survivors receive support and counselling and are assisted in taking forward their report through the university or its external partners. The university focuses on maintaining a survivor-centred approach to provide services, responses and support to survivors.
Update on Emergency Remote Learning
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Associate Professor Lis Lange, provided a report on the analysis of the emergency remote undergraduate teaching and student performance during the first semester. The decision to put the country in lockdown alert Level 5 in March 2020 forced UCT to go into emergency remote teaching. This required modifications to the academic calendar, to some university rules and, especially, adaptation to new pedagogies and technologies by both academics and students. The report provided information and analysis about the management of academic work at undergraduate and postgraduate level during the first semester of 2020. The report was noted by Council and the significant work by academics and PASS departments was acknowledged with huge appreciation of the efforts undertaken.
Revised Employment Equity Policy
One of UCT’s strategic goals is “to forge a new inclusive identity that reflects a more representative profile of students and employees, and the cultures, values, heritage and epistemologies of the diversity of UCT’s employees and students”. We furthermore aspire to unleash our human potential in ways we have not done before over the next 10 years. The university has an Employment Equity (EE) Plan (2019 to 2021) which has set numerical goals and targets, as well as affirmative action measures to support the university in achieving its transformation agenda.
The revised EE Policy was presented before Council. The policy aims at ensuring that the institution complies with EE legislative principles by upholding fair and objective principles and procedures for the staffing, development, promotion, retention and exiting of employees of the institution; and providing guidelines for these activities as well as the appointment of candidates to the institution. Council adopted the fundamental tenets and provisions in the revised policy, with further adjustments to be finalised by the University Human Resources Committee.
Faculty of Health Sciences
Following recent media reports relating to transformation in the faculty, the Dean, Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, was invited to provide an update on how these were being addressed. Three key areas are receiving attention:
Council underscored the urgency to address concerns about the pace of transformation.
Registration of UCT as a developmental credit provider
The university provides undergraduate student financial assistance in two ways: through funding from the state and through its own funding from the UCT General Operating Budget. As part of its strategic decision to fund financially eligible students, UCT provides additional support to students who are NSFAS eligible but are capped (ie NSFAS does not cover the full cost of study) and students who are outside the NSFAS threshold through GAP funding, which encompasses both a loan and a bursary portion. The Postgraduate Office also provides some funding in the form of loans, in addition to the bursaries offered. If an entity directly issues student loans and student bursaries, it is required to register as a credit provider. Council approved the registration of UCT as a credit provider.
Feedback from the executive on issues raised in the 2019 Report of the Ombud
Council considered the response of the executive to the regular report of the Ombud for 2019 and noted specifically the reflections on academic and academic administration matters, student-related issues, human resources-related issues, and the draft policy on bullying, which is discussed in the reports by Council committees below.
Reports by Council Committees
Report by the Students Representative Council (SRC)
Council noted the last report of the current SRC, whose term comes to an end on 31 October. Council commended the work of the SRC and expressed gratitude to the SRC representative on Council.
AGM of the UCT Convocation
The 2020 AGM is scheduled for 9 December and will have to be convened virtually. Council agreed that members of Convocation will be required to register ahead of the AGM, and on that basis meeting attendance will be enabled. This means that attendance, meeting participation and voting will be limited to those who register by the set deadline, which was proposed for 18 November 2020. The same deadline will apply for purposes of submission of nominations for the election of the President of Convocation.
Once again, I would like to express my deep appreciation to each and every one of you at UCT. It has been a very challenging year for all of us, but our commitment to UCT and its success has been unwavering.
Chair of UCT Council
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