Dear members of the UCT campus community
I write on behalf of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Council following its plenary meeting on 2 December 2023, which reconvened on 6 December, to give you feedback on some of the key decisions taken.
Firstly, Council wishes to express its sincere appreciation for the contribution that our staff and students have made during what has been a very challenging year for UCT. We are aware of the toll that this difficult year has taken on many of you, and we have high regard for the remarkable dedication and commitment that you have shown to our institution. Thank you.
The Chair of Council is required to report annually on the work of Council and in respect of which pre-determined objectives must be set. In this context, Council set high-level objectives for itself for 2024. These objectives extend to the oversight role of Council regarding statutory reporting and include the university’s submission of an annual report, the mid-year performance report and an annual performance plan to the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. Further goals relate to achieving targets for student enrolment, graduate output and student throughput, and ensuring that earmarked funds designated and awarded to UCT by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation are utilised for the specific purposes intended.
In light of the concerns that have been raised by the October 2023 report of the independent panel of investigation, Council is determined to ensure that it meets its governance obligations and that the recommendations of the independent panel are implemented to ensure that the governance failures raised in the panel’s report are addressed.
Council remains committed to ensuring and promoting academic freedom, transformation and sustainability, and success in the core activities of teaching and learning, research, and community engagement.
Regarding the matter of UCT’s size and shape, this being an important aspect of the vision for the university, Council approved proposals for the size and shape of UCT for the period 2023-2035. The plan seeks to enroll students to maximise the institution’s physical capacity and technological resources aligned to Vision 2030, and with a substantial increase in the number of graduates and improvements in the time to completion of study. The identity of a research-led institution will be retained, with a 60:40 split of undergraduate to postgraduate students.
UCT’s Annual Financial Statement and Annual Report 2022
On 6 December I reported to you that UCT’s external auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers Incorporated (PwC), had briefed Council and signed the consolidated financial statement of UCT for the year ended 31 December 2022. PwC expressed an unqualified audit opinion that the consolidated financial statement has been presented fairly and in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and the requirements of the Higher Education Act of South Africa, 1997 (Act no. 101 of 1997). It is very good news that UCT has now been able to meet this important component of its reporting obligations to the Department of Higher Education and bring to conclusion the matter of the annual financial statement and the annual reporting for 2022.
The 2022 Teaching and Learning Report
The academic project remains at the core of UCT’s business. Council was pleased to receive the Senate’s Teaching and Learning Report for 2022. This report is an excellent record of UCT’s academic work. It is a tribute to the contribution and excellence of our academic staff, the professional staff who support the academic enterprise, and our students. It is also a tribute to the Senate as the custodian of UCT’s academic enterprise.
Council is concerned about the finance challenges that UCT is facing. These challenges are not unique to UCT and are compounded by sector-wide concerns related to NSFAS funding, declining state funding and difficulties that many of our students face in meeting their fee commitments. While UCT has a good record of providing funding support to many of our students, the wider contextual realities constrain the capacity to provide support on the scale that is required. These factors, and fee income that will not keep pace with inflation, will pose very real financial sustainability risks. The 2024 budget has had to take this into account and the university must expect to have to respond to financial challenges in the time ahead.
An amended student fee and debt recovery policy (previously the student fee policy) was adopted by Council. This policy seeks to inter alia provide a framework for the management of student fees and optimise cash flow management to ensure institutional financial sustainability whilst ensuring consistency and fairness in the processes for managing student debt at UCT. The 2024 tuition and student housing fee increases were approved but these are subject to an alignment with the expected sector-wide pronouncement by the Minister of Higher Education.
Council made important policy decisions by (1) amending the fixed-term contract policy in response to the needs of the university’s research endeavor; (2) adopting the policy for the prevention and management of academic misconduct by students, the purpose of which is to establish a standard for academic integrity for undergraduate and postgraduate students; and (3) adopting a revised policy for breach of research ethics codes and allegations of misconduct in research. The effective date of the latter will follow an implementation phase and in the interim the existing policy will continue to apply.
Report of the Ombud
Council engaged with the Ombud on her report for the third quarter of 2023 and underscores the importance of the role of the Ombud. Council will continue to regularly engage with the Ombud in the process of identifying institutional trends and related concerns in order that interventions as required may be put in place.
Council confirmed the selection committee for the post of Vice-Chancellor, as well as the criteria for the role and on that basis the selection committee is now ready to commence its work. The appointment of the Vice-Chancellor is a critical matter for UCT and Council will make every effort to undertake this selection process with the required diligence and urgency.
Noting that Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) Professor Sue Harrison has elected to retire early from UCT, and to ensure continuity in the research and internationalisation portfolio, Council has appointed an acting DVC. An announcement in this regard will be made via other university channels once all other related processes are concluded. Council records its appreciation for the leadership and contribution that Professor Harrison has made in her various roles at UCT, and most recently as DVC, and wishes her well in her future endeavors.
Council appointed members from amongst its ranks to the selection committee for the post of DVC for Research and Internationalisation, and for the post of executive director for Communication and Marketing Department (CMD); the latter post having become vacant following the early retirement of long-serving colleague Ms Gerda Kruger. For the DVC post, Council appointed Sheila Barsel, Shuaib Manjra, Nazeema Mohamed and Dianna Yach to the selection committee. Yach was designated chair of the selection committee. For the post of executive director for CMD, Council appointed Barsel and Marlene le Roux (alternate) to the selection committee.
As 2023 draws to a close, we express gratitude to all of you for your hard work. We recognise the achievements of our staff and students, we take pride in the academic successes of members of our community, the steadfast support of our professional and administrative staff, and we cherish the memories of those colleagues and students who have passed on. UCT remains a strong and proud institution. We convey our best wishes to you for the coming festive season and may it be a time of well-deserved rest, a time to connect with family and friends and most of all, please be safe.
Norman Arendse (SC)
Chair of Council
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