The Faculty of Science’s Transformation Committee hosted a panel discussion on 28 September to debate the interplay between excellence and transformation at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
What emerged was a clear need to redefine what excellence means for the faculty. UCT’s Vision 2030 states that the institution aspires to be “a university that is uncompromising in its transformative intent, deeply rooted in academic excellence, and one that strives for social, environmental and financial sustainability”.
Rather than taking a narrow definition of individual academic excellence, we need to think in relational terms of collective academic excellence; excellence in working together to foster bright, dynamic, problem-solving, motivated, caring and connected students and to generate new knowledge that contributes to building a brighter tomorrow for all, committee members said.
Diversity, inclusivity and care are at the heart of this kind of academic excellence. The academic system cannot rest on breeding competition that undermines one another. Transformation is about everyone feeling valued and being supported to be the best versions of themselves and do their best work. That takes reciprocal support, encouragement, constructive feedback and clear communication of processes and expectations.
Mentoring programmes, buddy systems and better onboarding processes for new UCT staff came up as practical means of doing this. People need to feel welcome, included, up to speed on how things work at UCT, and supported in progressively contributing to the academic project, otherwise alienation quickly sets in.
Striving for academic excellence should not be about putting unhealthy pressure on each other. Collective academic excellence is about actively avoiding alienation, marginalisation, and confusion. It is also about putting processes and practices in place so that everyone can feel supported in producing their best work.
Improving the induction process and enhancing the experience of onboarding for new staff at UCT is something the Faculty of Science’s Transformation Committee plans to take forward into 2024.
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