Message to Stellenbosch University (SU) staff and students from Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers (click here for a video version on YouTube):
At the start of the academic year, a hearty welcome to everyone. Most of us are returning to the University after the holidays, some of us are new. May 2016 be a good year for us all!
There are certainly important issues that need urgent attention, but I am confident that we have solid foundations at Stellenbosch University (SU) to build on. We are doing well in the pursuit of excellence, as reflected in sterling achievements in research and student success. We are making good progress towards becoming more inclusive by broadening access to the institution. And we are contributing to a better future for all by impacting on societal challenges.
These aspects should be strengthened and expanded as we tackle the challenges that face our sector head on. Higher education is undergoing rapid change, and all universities are dealing with fundamental issues affecting not only their own existence as institutions but the welfare and progress of society as a whole. Transformation is a priority. We have to continually innovate, change and adapt in all aspects of our being as a university, or else we will stagnate, or worse – regress.
Following on from last year's developments, student funding is still high on the national agenda. We support affordable higher education for all – and free, subsidised education for academically deserving students who struggle financially – but for the moment, all universities are reliant on student fees to cover some of their costs. We welcome the allocation of additional financing by the state to universities and to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. We will also be making inputs to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education Funding, and look forward to satisfactory outcomes.
SU provides significant support to financially needy students from its own and allocated funds, but additional assistance is still required. Now our SRC has come up with a wonderful initiative to raise funds for students who have been accepted for studies at SU, but do not have the necessary proof of sufficient funds to register. The campaign is called #RegisterALL, and we encourage everyone to make a contribution. Funds raised will be managed by our Bursaries and Loans Office.
Another pressing matter is language. Some fear that our use of Afrikaans may exclude students who wish to study in English, others fear that our use of English is putting Afrikaans at risk. Let me allay these fears by saying that the University is committed to multilingualism without any exclusion. Towards the end of last year, our Council affirmed that "language may never be an obstacle to any student who has no command of Afrikaans or only the minimum required command of English." So, we are expanding parallel-medium tuition (separate English and Afrikaans classes) further.
Students who don't understand Afrikaans will get the information they need in English – that is our commitment. And those who struggle with academic English will be supported too. Regarding the administrative language of the University, English and Afrikaans are used, but the same guiding principle of not excluding anyone applies.
On our journey of transformation, meaningful dialogue is of vital importance. The existence of various interest groups is a given. We should keep on talking and listening to each other in the search for common ground. That is the principle behind an "open conversation". A university is a place of ideas around which there should be contestation in the search for answers – even if it makes us uncomfortable.
As part of the open conversation, there may be protest action from time to time. In fact, everyone has a right to lawful and peaceful protest under the Constitution. Important principles, though, are that neither academic nor administrative activities should be disrupted, everyone's rights should be respected, and no-one should be denied the opportunity to study or work at the University. We have a joint responsibility to protect our institution and all its people, property and activities.
Stellenbosch University is a national asset providing a crucial service to the country as a whole. That is why we strive to provide an inclusive, welcoming home to all. Everyone is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity – regardless of colour, belief, gender or sexual orientation.
If you find the current welcoming practices or university traditions outdated, help us to create new traditions – relevant to our times and commitment to inclusivity. But let me be very clear – discrimination and dehumanisation will not be tolerated. Send an email to email@example.com to report harassment, victimisation or discrimination to our newly established Equality Unit.
If you need help in an emergency, call our 24-hour crisis line on 082 557 0880. In terms of safety and security in general, take care of yourself and each other, and look after your possessions. Don't hesitate to contact Campus Security for assistance – call 021 808 2333.
We consider the growing diversity in student and staff demographics at Stellenbosch University a great asset to both the academic and personal development of everyone studying and working here. Let us go forward together this year.
Best wishes for 2016!