Important milestones in a tough year: Royston Pillay
The 2020 year commenced as planned, but very soon thereafter, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university faced several unprecedented challenges. Many of the usual assumptions no longer applied and under the circumstances that prevailed, the university had to conduct its business in very different ways, and in doing so relied on the resilience of its staff and students.
COVID-19 notwithstanding, several important milestones were reached in 2020. These were manifest in various ways, including important developments at the level of institutional governance, the university’s academic project and student academic success.
In late 2019, the university concluded the process of electing a new Chancellor. An electoral college consisting of holders of UCT qualifications, academic and PASS (professional, administrative support and service) staff, and students elected Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe as the sixth Chancellor of UCT. This appointment took effect on 1 January 2020, with Dr Moloi-Motsepe succeeding Mrs Graça Machel who had served UCT as Chancellor with great distinction.
Following a consultative process to review the composition of the UCT Council, the amended UCT Statute was approved by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology and gazetted in January 2020. This allowed for the new Council that took office on 1 July 2020 to be constituted in terms of the revised Council composition rules, while still aligning to the legislative requirement that the membership of Council not exceed 30 members and that the number of external members (neither staff nor students) constitute no less than 60% of the Council’s total membership.
On 30 June 2020 the university said farewell to the 2016/20 Council, chaired by Sipho M Pityana. As the baton was passed on to the new Council, chaired by Babalwa Ngonyama, so too was the overarching duty to serve UCT in its best interests, through the exercise of governance oversight, to enable the delivery of UCT’s academic core business and its strategy while achieving institutional sustainability and transformation objectives. Council also adopted important institutional policies in response to prevailing priorities. These included a revised policy on Employment Equity, the Sexual Misconduct Policy, the Responsible and Sustainable Investment Policy, and the UCT Risk Management Policy.
UCT’s performance regarding student enrolments in 2020, as well as graduation rates, was encouraging, even more so given the challenges presented by COVID-19. The actual enrolment in 2020 was 28 447 students. The total enrolments comprised 16 722 undergraduate full degree students, 3 164 postgraduates below the master’s level, 5 829 master’s students and 2 222 doctoral enrolments. Very significantly, approximately one-third of enrolments are at the honours, master’s or doctoral levels.
Graduation ceremonies are long-established celebratory occasions at UCT and valued by students and their families. Unfortunately, graduating students and their families were not able to experience these joyous occasions in person. While COVID-19 health and safety requirements curtailed regular university events, and face-to-face ceremonies were not possible, this does not detract from the wonderful academic achievements of our graduates, and we are very proud of all of them. Virtual graduation ceremonies were arranged and in total 7 330 students earned a UCT qualification during 2020. Of this number, 276 were doctoral degrees, an increase of 42% since 2018. These academic successes are testimony to the hard work and sacrifices of our students, the support of their families, and the work of all the UCT staff – academic and professional and support staff – during what was a very difficult year.
The challenges of 2020 were unprecedented in many important and far-reaching respects. The contributions of staff and students, under the most trying circumstances, are appreciated and applauded.
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This was the year COVID-19 stretched us, thrust us into the unknown and challenged us to think of new ways of doing and being. It was a year we moved to remote teaching and learning, with many of our colleagues working remotely. This edition is dedicated to the men and women who worked hard to ensure that the education programme continues, and students who worked equally hard under unusual circumstances.
The Newsroom and Publications unit releases an annual report, which is a review of activities on campus during the previous year. It spans nearly all aspects of UCT life, and includes reports from senior executives on issues such as governance, teaching and learning, research, social responsiveness, transformation and employment equity. Each year the report clearly illustrates clearly why UCT is held in such high regard in South Africa, Africa and across the globe.