On Friday, 29 July 2022, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and other members of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) executive shared their plans for the next five years with colleagues during a virtual staff assembly.
In the invitation sent out at the beginning of July, Professor Phakeng reminded staff of the three pillars anchoring UCT’s Vision 2030 strategy: excellence, transformation and sustainability.
“The implementation of Vision 2030 has not been without challenges and complexities, but I am pleased to report that we have made great strides towards achieving our goals,” she wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic has also given us an opportunity to reimagine our university further and in different ways.”
Joining Phakeng for the staff assembly on Friday was Professor Sue Harrison, the deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for Research and Internationalisation; Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, the DVC for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness; Professor Harsha Kathard, the acting DVC for Teaching and Learning; Dr Reno Morar, the chief operating officer; and Vincent Motholo, the chief financial officer.
The 90-minute staff assembly served as an opportunity for UCT’s executive to share progress that has been made in the pursuit of Vision 2030, as well as their goals for the next five years.
With excellence, transformation and sustainability forming the overarching framework, a number of sub-themes emerged. These included UCT stepping up to the plate as a global leader in curriculum change and transformation; placing institutional achievement ahead of purely personal gains; working together to nurture mental well-being among staff and students; and minimising environmental impact. Finally, underpinning all of this, is the need for financial sustainability.
Becoming global leaders in curriculum change
In the portfolio of teaching and learning, Phakeng expressed her wish to complete the process of curriculum change as soon as possible within the next five years. She said that the journey towards decolonising the curriculum has taken too long and that it is no longer a subject for debate. To this end, she announced that R10 million will be invested in curriculum change.
“Wherever I go, everyone asks us about decolonising the curriculum. They ask for our help. That is something that we should be leading in the world,” Phakeng said. “So, how do we do this scholarly – and well?”
“I’m really hopeful that, from Africa, we will lead the process in generating new ideas about educational practices that are humanising, that advance our freedom and unleash human potential.”
Echoing this, Professor Kathard said: “I’m really hopeful that, from Africa, we will lead the process in generating new ideas about educational practices that are humanising, that advance our freedom and unleash human potential.”
She also emphasised the collaborative nature of the curriculum change project and that it comes down to placing staff and students centre stage.
“Curriculum change is really about who we are,” explained Kathard. “It’s about asking important questions and creating a sense of belonging. What knowledge is silenced? What knowledge is excluded? The process becomes personal through asking these kinds of questions.”
She concluded that it’s critical to think of curriculum change as an all-inclusive and social process.
“Everyone involved in the teaching and learning project must play a role in curriculum change. This includes students, stakeholders, employers, community members etc – anyone who has an influence on how we think about graduates,” Kathard said.
Nurturing mental well-being
The importance of inclusivity and teamwork also came to the fore strongly in Professor Ramugondo’s vision for creating a more nurturing environment that encourages mental well-being among students and staff.
She highlighted the fact that UCT offers an excellent array of curative psychiatric and psycho-social services, but that there is a dire need for these to be bolstered with more preventative interventions.
“We don’t want to drop the ball in ensuring that our students get good psychiatric care [and] good psycho-social services when they need to get those services, but it’s often too late when symptoms [manifest],” Ramugondo said. “We need to complement that work with more preventative ways.”
In consultation with the Student Wellness Service and Student Affairs, seven key elements have been identified to promote a culture of well-being on campus. These are:
Institutional achievement vs personal gain
It cannot be denied that universities are highly competitive settings, which certainly also has an impact on mental health and well-being. This is particularly true for anyone who feels like their efforts and achievements might be overlooked for whatever reason, while others receive accolades and rewards.
During the staff assembly, Phakeng made a strong case for reimagining UCT’s system of recognising performance.
“The current system works for individuals but not for the institution; therefore, it is not sustainable,” she said. “We need a system that recognises excellence in all aspects of our work and values our people not just as individuals, but as team players who add value to the whole.”
“We’re working hard at building knowledge hubs and shared facilities around data repositories.”
Closely related to the pursuit of institutional achievement and excellence are the goals of bolstering research at UCT through investment in, among other things, talent retention, internationalisation and collaboration.
In terms of talent retention, increasing support for UCT’s South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chairs is a crucial focus.
“It’s important that we do not lose the excellence that we have built through the SARChI Chairs over the past 15 years,” Phakeng said.
Since much of the research being conducted by the SARChI Chairs is highly trans-, multi- and interdisciplinary by nature, creating spaces where knowledge can easily be shared is of the utmost importance.
“We’re working hard at building knowledge hubs and shared facilities around data repositories,” Harrison said.
Environmental impact and financial sustainability
Expanding on this, Dr Morar said that UCT is planning for the university of the future by reimagining its infrastructure and investing in eco-friendly repairs and maintenance.
“In terms of environmental sustainability, the outer deadline is 2050, but we systematically need to reduce our energy consumption, deal with our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the way we consume water and also the way we manage our waste,” he said.
The achievement of these goals and, by extension, Vision 2030, is subject to financial sustainability.
“This is not work that we do in isolation; it’s a collaborative effort depending on all of us.”
Motholo highlighted six key variables that affect UCT’s financial sustainability, which include: decreased state subsidies and grants; NSFAS funding that is not sustainable, yet 40% of UCT’s undergraduates rely on it; student enrolment and retention; the Department of Higher Education and Training’s proposed fees regulation framework; staff costs representing about 68% of UCT’s general operating budget; and investment in research and learning infrastructure as well as facilities maintenance.
“We have developed a financial sustainability plan with a number of projects we are looking at launching,” he said.
Among other things, these projects include creating additional revenue through short learning programmes as well as through strategic partnerships and collaborations.
In conclusion, Motholo reiterated teamwork as an imperative.
“As we look at these plans and strategies, we will regularly review university priorities,” he said. “This is not work that we do in isolation; it’s a collaborative effort depending on all of us.”
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