Unleashing human potential: The inspiring journey of UCT’s dean of CHED

22 June 2023 | Story Azraa Dawood. Photo Robyn Walker. Read time 5 min.
Assoc Prof Kasturi Behari-Leak, the dean of CHED
Assoc Prof Kasturi Behari-Leak, the dean of CHED

At the University of Cape Town (UCT), a visionary leader has embarked on a transformative journey to unleash the human potential of students and staff. Associate Professor Kasturi Behari-Leak, the dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), shares a powerful message that centres on the academic–social project, envisioning CHED as the hub of educational endeavours, a space where thought leadership, social justice imperatives, and academic success converge.

Associate Professor Behari-Leak also aims to position the faculty strongly at the centre of institutional work, fostering a positive, inclusive, and personalised approach to teaching and learning at UCT. “I want to amplify the expertise and voices of CHED’s diverse community and aim to enable students and staff to become active agents of change,” she said.

Formative years

Behari-Leak’s journey into academia began in Durban, a city that shaped her early years and instilled in her a deep sense of community and resilience. Growing up with limited resources but surrounded by a vibrant culture, she experienced first-hand the power of unity and collaboration in adversity.

“These formative experiences deeply influenced my work in higher education, as I seek to create inclusive spaces where previously marginalised people can find belonging.”

After completing an honours in drama, she was determined to make a difference. Inspired by her own love for teaching, she embarked on a career in education. She moved to Cape Town, where she initially taught drama in a high school before she started lecturing. Through various roles at UCT, her wealth of experience, and a burning passion for social justice and educational transformation, Behari-Leak has been a driving force in supporting academic staff and students to decolonise their teaching and learning journeys.

As the first black woman to be appointed as the dean of CHED, she stands at the helm of a department poised for greatness. When asked about her feelings regarding her appointment, she expressed excitement tempered with a sense of responsibility. Recognising the significance of her role, she aims to bring about meaningful change and lead by example, dismantling barriers and promoting a new ethos of leadership.


With just over one year as dean, Behari-Leak reflects on some of the highs of her journey, “witnessing the passion and dedication of CHED departments that work tirelessly to support students and academic staff across UCT”. CHED staff lead on key institutional projects such as the Assessment Policy and Practice Framework, Tutor Development Framework, Course Evaluations and Curriculum Change. Positioning CHED as the glue between the various faculties and continuing the work of student and staff success, transformation, and curriculum change, gets her up in the morning. She emphasised the importance of collaboration and recently arranged a symbolic graphic harvest event, where representatives from the various CHED departments contributed to a storytelling image, representing their collective work that contributes towards CHED’s vision and mission.

Vision and mission

As part of her vision for CHED, the establishment of four hubs dedicated to integrated student success, staff development, curriculum change, and the scholarship of teaching, learning, and educational development paves the way for a holistic and embedded approach within the faculty. With the support of three key deputy deans, departmental-level initiatives are set to drive impactful work throughout UCT. Additionally, CHED Connect facilitates online and in-person seminars, providing spaces for staff to discuss “hot topics” and address the challenges facing higher education. Excitingly, a CHED Journal is also on the horizon, offering a platform for scholarly contributions from the CHED community.


“I envision a future where CHED serves as a catalyst for social change, driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of traditional education.”

In line with UCT’s Vision 2030, Behari-Leak is committed to excellence, transformation, and sustainability. “I envision a future where CHED serves as a catalyst for social change, driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of traditional education. By embracing emerging technologies, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and creating opportunities for lifelong learning, CHED is well placed to equip graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world,” the dean said.

“Recognising that true transformation requires collective effort, she emphasised the importance of building strong partnerships with stakeholders within and outside the university, including community organisations, industry leaders, and policymakers. “By working collaboratively, we [CHED] can leverage resources and expertise to address the pressing challenges facing society, such as inequality, poverty, and environmental sustainability.”

Her inspiring journey embodies the essence of unleashing human potential. Through her leadership, CHED stands at the precipice of a new era; one that embraces inclusivity, social justice, and innovation. She navigates her role with determination and empathy, determined to make a lasting impact – not only on the lives of UCT students and staff but also on the broader landscape of higher education in South Africa and beyond. Her journey reminds us that by unleashing the untapped potential within ourselves and others, we have the power to create a brighter, more equitable future for all.

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