Dear members of the UCT community
The Council of the University of Cape Town (UCT) convened its first ordinary meeting for this year on 12 March 2022. I write to you, on behalf of Council, to provide an update on key matters considered and decisions taken by the Council at our meeting.
Firstly, let me express our gratitude to UCT staff and students, for all you do in your various roles in support of our university. We started this year still contending with the hardships of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are mourning the loss of colleagues, family and friends. This once again reminds us of the care and compassion that we need to continue to provide to each other in these difficult times.
The year commenced with some of our students facing historical fee debt, which prevented them from being able to register for the 2022 academic year. As you are aware, Council previously decided to lift the fee block on student registrations for 2022. We recognise the economic hardships faced by many of our students and households, and Council will continue to work towards finding sustainable ways to assist as far as is reasonably possible. We are pleased that the academic year is now fully underway. I wish you fortitude for the year to come, may you bask in your successes and remain resilient through these challenging times.
As you will recall, Council in October 2021 took an in-principle decision to introduce a vaccine mandate policy that in “2022, all staff and students must – as a condition to perform their duties or to be registered – provide proof that they have been vaccinated against the SARS COVD-19 virus (COVID-19)”. Council had also tasked the university leadership to establish an appropriately constituted panel to develop the operational details to implement the in-principle decision, including guidelines for exemption from a vaccination requirement.
The panel was established, and a draft vaccine mandate policy was developed through consultations with the public, as well as within the internal UCT community. This consultation took place during the period December 2021 to March 2022. Council considered a detailed report of the panel, and noted in particular the panel’s advice that, based on the best available evidence, vaccines are less effective at reducing transmission of the Omicron variant, and that vaccines remain effective in limiting hospitalisation and death. Vaccination therefore, at this point, should be seen as a mechanism for protection against severe disease and death for the vaccinated individual, and therefore the focus should be on achieving high levels of vaccination on a voluntary basis. Throughout this process, UCT has remained fully committed to being guided by science and the best evidence available in guiding the policy development.
In this light, and following discussion, Council resolved that:
Council recognises the magnitude of the mandatory vaccination issue and respects the fact that there are multiple differing opinions on the matter. On behalf of Council, we wish to thank the chairperson, deputy chairperson and each of the panel members for the valuable work that they have done. We also thank the UCT staff and students, and others who participated in the public consultation process and who engaged vigorously on this important matter.
At UCT we believe in a responsible approach to environmental sustainability, including being highly conscious of how resources, including natural resources, are consumed. This is a matter of global importance and is one that Council stands by firmly.
There is important work that is being undertaken as part of UCT’s environmental sustainability programme. Council is in principle committed to creating a sustainable solution for the university, which includes setting goals and mapping a way forward to reduce the carbon footprint, harness renewable energy, and improve the waste-to-landfill index. This is an important component of UCT’s Vision 2030 journey, fully supported by the Council, and a further aspect of our institutional transformation goals. The UCT Khusela Ikhamva (secure the future) programme – an undertaking where innovative and cross-disciplinary research projects investigate and drive UCT’s goals for a sustainable campus – is an excellent manifestation of a future-focused initiative.
Divestment from fossil fuel
Vision 2030 commits UCT to help achieve the interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as adopted by the United Nations, aiming to achieve a more sustainable future for all. Council has in principle agreed to the divestment from fossil fuels. This approach will put back into society, the environment and the global economy more than is being taken out.
The above in-principle decision will be executed in a responsible transitionary approach. Firstly, through the immediate divestment from internationally exposed fossil fuel investments and immediate investment in renewable energy and/or green economy instead of new investments in fossil fuels. Secondly, in the local economy, working towards achieving a goal of being net positive by 2030.
This is a significant step that UCT will take and provides UCT with the platform to be pacesetters in encouraging environmental and social sustainability. Council wishes to acknowledge the expert advice and guidance that has been provided by the University Panel for Responsible Investment (UPRI), the Joint Investment Committee (JIC) and the Foundation Trustees.
Council for Higher Education (CHE) Institutional Audit
Council noted that the CHE is conducting institutional audits of higher education institutions, and a CHE audit panel will visit UCT during August 2022. The audit methodology requires that UCT submits an institutional self-evaluation report (SER) ahead of the site visit in August. The CHE audit framework is especially interested in universities demonstrating that they provide an enabling framework for the provision of high-quality programmes, effective student support, flexible learning modes and innovative pedagogies to improve access, retention and success. Council has reviewed UCT’s SER as endorsed by Senate and acknowledges the significance of the audit, the work that has been done in preparation for the audit visit and the excellent and detailed SER that has been prepared as required in this process.
Social, Ethics and Transformation Committee
Council had previously agreed that a Social, Ethics and Transformation Committee (SETC) be established. The purpose of which was to assist Council in its oversight and governance role, including for transformation as one of the three pillars of Vision 2030. The SETC will report directly to Council and will monitor and evaluate policies and practices that give expression to UCT’s ethical values and related culture and decision-making practices. Council approved the terms of reference for the SETC and these will be incorporated into UCT’s manual of committees.
Council considered the summary of comments received in relation to the LGBTQI+ panel report which was released in November 2021. Council noted that the report raised questions about the adequacy of the university’s policies that address gender and sexual identity. Council was encouraged by the fact that a Policy on Gender Equity is in draft form and approval is pending and that this will build on the protections provided, inter alia, by the policies on bullying and sexual misconduct. As a further indication of a commitment to the institutional goals for inclusivity, there are currently initiatives in place that build on the panel’s recommendations. These include:
Neville Alexander Building
Council resolved to approve the transfer of the name ‘Neville Alexander Building’ from the building currently housing the School of Education on upper campus to the new building on lower campus that will be the future home for the school. Construction work on the new building is far advanced and will be completed during 2022. Council agreed that the name transfer would continue to appropriately give due recognition to the values associated with everything that Neville Alexander stood for, his legacy and the profound contribution he made in the national interest.
In closing, I thank you again for your individual and collective efforts that continue to define our institution as a leading, caring, responsible and transforming university.
Babalwa Ngonyama, CA (SA)
Chair of UCT Council
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