Key issues, including declining public financing for Higher Education Institutions and uncertain political times impacting on UKZN’s planning and operations, were explored by the University’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, at a roundtable event.
Poku made the observations while delivering the keynote address at the event titled: UKZN as a Premier University of African Scholarship: Practical Implications.
The Vice-Chancellor also raised concerns about the ratio of support staff to academic staff, which currently stands at a ratio of about 70 to 30 percent. ‘Protests have left a legacy of UKZN being mired in violence and poor perceptions of our value to the national consciousness. If you just look at how many people have disinvested from us over the past decade, it is truly shocking.’
Another key issue facing UKZN was a highly competitive Higher Education environment. He stressed it was vital for the University to have the ability and a strong foundation to attract the very best from our communities to join our Institution. ‘As UKZN, how do we ensure that the very best of our kids in the province see us as the primary university of choice?’
Poku emphasised the importance of transforming the curricular to make it compatible with the needs of the modern market. ‘By the end of 2023 I want all our courses to either have an element of placement to them or are derived from consultation with the formal sector. We need to ensure that the quality of our academic offerings is distinctive and of the very highest calibre we can offer.’ He said a radical audit was needed in each School to ensure the provision is well considered, aligned to what industry would expect of us and well resourced. ‘The restoration of the academic project is at the heart of employability.’
He said it was necessary for the University to redouble its commitment to ensure the Institution was galvanised for change. ‘If we can rally around, then we will be able to re-navigate this very important Institution and rebalance its trajectory in terms of directional travel.’
Poku thanked the broader University community ‘We are living in challenging times and each of you have distinguished yourselves by the manner in which you have risen to the challenges of the past 18 months and you’ve done so without hesitation and with a sense of commitment. To me, that is the real DNA of this unique university – that we do have our differences but in time of crisis you cannot separate us by a hair. That is the value of the collective endeavour that we as a body of people bring to this unique University.’
Acting Dean and Head of the School of Social Sciences Professor Vivian Ojong said being the Premier University of African Scholarship required more than just having Africans teaching and researching and being placed on the African continent. Ojong said it required academics, scholars and researchers to be ‘mentally African’ and at the forefront of teaching, research, innovation and community engagement with an African-centred agenda.
UKZN’s Dr Maserole Kgari-Masondo detailed the impetus of the roundtable and implored everyone ‘to see ourselves as the guardians of the culture and ethos of the University.’ The Head of the Culture Cluster in the School of Social Sciences, Kgari-Masondo said it was important to shape the culture of the University to protect the reputation of the Institution.
Professor Lebo Moletsane focused on teaching and research and reflected on whether ‘our debates and efforts around transformation, Africanisation and decolonisation are nothing but platitudes and whether they are real efforts towards changing the curriculum and the University culture.’
Moletsane delivered a “found poem” (credit: Dr Alude Mahali – Education and Emancipation project) that resonated deeply with the audience. A “found poem” is created using words or quotations selected and rearranged from another text. In this case, the texts were selected from interview transcripts from eight South African universities.
The poem reads:
I went to the bursary offices
‘Where’s the father’s Affidavit?’
‘I don’t have a father’.
‘Go to your mom and tell her to write about the whereabouts of your father.’
I go home.
Write out another Affidavit.
Go back to the police station
Using a taxi.
Then back to university.
Being a female at university is an extreme sport
Every morning I wake up
Walk down to campus with weapons
Tasers and pepper spray
There’s always crime on campus
Females being raped on campus
You sit there in the lecture room and think:
‘What am I going to say?
Are they going to laugh at me?
Think I’m stupid?’
Some students slept.
In the Student Building.
For two days.
I wanted to study
They said it’s full.
They just put me in another programme so that I don’t stay at home.
If you are Black and poor, you are in trouble.
This place is very brutal for Black poor kids.
I don’t feel I belong to the campus.
Hosted by the College of Humanities, discussions included thought provoking contributions by the SRC’s Ms Pearl Thwala who looked at student issues and raised concerns about students not being consulted with regards to Project Renewal. The Vice-Chancellor said he was impressed with her presentation and committed to engaging with students on these matters.
Mr Calvin Thomas explored challenges faced by staff members during the pandemic and provided a balanced presentation on the pros and cons of “living at work”, while Professor Simangaliso Kumalo looked at issues of ethics and morality and implications for the University.
UKZN alumnus Dr Bongani Ngqulunga introduced the concept of graduates being viewed as investors. Ngqulunga, who holds three degrees from the University, said: ‘Graduates are like people who invest in a company. What happens at a company on a day-to-day basis affects its value – with our case, it’s the value of our degrees. If the University does well, the public perception of our degrees increase. If the University does not do so well, the perception of our degrees also goes down.’
Dr Balungile Zondi was the Programme Director,while Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, introduced the main speaker Professor Nana Poku.
Dr Gerelene Jagganath introduced other speakers, while Dr Janet Muthuki gave the vote of thanks and Professor Maheshvari Naidu was the facilitator.