The Council of Stellenbosch University (SU) met on Monday 25 March 2019. This was our first gathering for the year as well as for SU's second century. Having turned 100 in 2018, the institution is now confidently embarking on the future guided by Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019–2024 (click here to view), which Council approved in June last year.
Council discussed the challenges and opportunities in the current higher education landscape in the country and noted SU's achievements and contributions to society. We also took a number of decisions, including to approve SU's financial results for 2018 and adopt a new framework for simplifying and speeding up senior appointments. Moreover, we accepted a large donation of land in Klapmuts to the University, which is meant for the future expansion of the institution. Finally, we took leave of one Council member and welcomed another.
Please read on for more about these and other matters dealt with at the meeting.
Chair: SU Council
South African higher education landscape
Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers briefed Council on the latest developments in higher education in the country. Minister Naledi Pandor's recent announcement of an additional R967 million in funding to universities to cover historical student debt was welcomed.
While student accommodation and transport have emerged as major challenges in the sector this year, the most important issue remains student funding. The appointment of Dr Randall Carolissen as administrator of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in August 2018 has seen considerable improvements being made, although not all problems have been ironed out.
There has also been a significant increase in state funding since 2018, when government started phasing in fee-free higher education and training for poor and working-class students. However, the sustainability of these higher subsidy levels remains uncertain. At the same time, other sources of state funding – the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) – have diminished significantly, with dire consequences for universities. Major donors such as the Mellon and Claude Leon foundations are also cutting back on their assistance to South African universities.
Of course, Eskom's latest spate of loadshedding has added to the existing pressure on universities. To date this year, SU has had considerable unforeseen expenses relating to extra generators and diesel to keep the power on and prevent unnecessary disruptions to the academic programme.
Against this backdrop, Council welcomed SU management's continued commitment to systemic sustainability.
2018 financial results
At the recommendation of its Executive Committee, Council approved SU's 2018 financial results. SU had achieved a surplus of R23,3 million on its main budget, thanks mainly to savings on utilities, municipal services, insurance and overheads. Half of this surplus has been allocated to the institution's contingency reserve to provide for unforeseen expenditure, and the other half to the Strategic Fund.
Council also approved the financial results for SU's ringfenced accommodation budget for 2018, which showed a shortfall of R2,4 million. The shortfall was due to finance costs relating to new residences at Tygerberg and was expected. In fact, savings realised on the utilities bill for residences due to a drop in water consumption resulted in a smaller shortfall than budgeted for. The shortfall will be funded from reserves.
New SU loan scheme for 'missing middle'
In his management report (click here for the complete document), the Rector reported on a new loan scheme introduced by SU this year to support students from the “missing middle". The maximum loan is equivalent to the student's tuition fees. The loan is interest-free during the study period, and repayable at a fixed prime rate per year after completion of studies.
This measure became necessary, as some students not catered for by current state or SU bursaries struggle to afford their studies without financial support, which they cannot obtain because their families have limited access to credit from financial institutions.
Residence placement of first-year students
Since the adoption of SU's current residence placement policy in 2013, the diversity profile of students in residences has significantly improved. This year is the first time that the institution has managed to achieve a 50/50 diversity distribution among first-years placed in University residences on the Stellenbosch and Tygerberg campuses.
A larger number of vulnerable students, particularly NSFAS students, have been placed in residence. Nearly one third (28%) of first-years in residences are recipients of an NSFAS allocation, and approximately 600 of the 1 000 enrolled first-years who have received NSFAS funding to date were placed in residence.
Council agreed with gratitude to accept a donation of 30 ha of land in Klapmuts to SU for the future expansion of the University. The donation was made by Mr Jaap du Toit, one of the University's foremost donors. He is a shareholder in the Stellenbosch Wine and Country Estate (Pty) Ltd, which plans to develop the “Stellenbosch Smart City" in the area. Klapmuts is regarded as an important development node for the region over the next few decades.
According to the memorandum of understanding relating to the donation, SU may develop the land for tertiary instruction and supporting facilities, for sports and recreational facilities, for facilities that support the commercialisation of any knowledge and/or know-how owned or co-owned by or licensed to SU, for arts and culture facilities such as an amphitheatre, and for relevant and appropriate supporting infrastructure. SU will include the development in its revised facilities master plan, and is considering the creation of a world-class innovation hub with conference facilities in Klapmuts.
Research, innovation, postgraduate studies
At this meeting of Council, it was Prof Eugene Cloete's turn to report on activities in his responsibility centre (RC) – Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies – over the past year (click here for the complete document, and here for a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation). Achievements in these areas bode well for the realisation of SU's Vision 2040 of becoming “Africa's leading research-intensive university, globally recognised as excellent, inclusive and innovative, where we advance knowledge in service of society".
Highlights from Prof Cloete's report included the following:
- In 2018, SU had 459 NRF-rated researchers (up from 342 in 2014). These included 14 with an A-rating, which means they are “unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their respective fields".
- Research chairs at SU more than doubled from 23 in 2013 to 47 in 2018. SU is fortunate to have academic staff helping to positioning the University as a national asset with global standing.
- According to the Department of Higher Education and Training, the weighted research output (both publications and postgraduate students) per full-time academic staff member at SU reached 3,23 in 2017 (as reported on in 2018), which is again a record number.
- For the fifth consecutive year, SU delivered a record number of PhD graduates. In 2018, the University conferred 308 PhDs compared to 234 in 2014. At 1 507, the number of master's degrees was slightly down from 2017, but still is the second-highest number ever.
- SU's postgraduate cohort is the most diverse it has ever been. In 2018, 50% of postgraduates were black African, coloured, Indian or Asian, and 18,3% international.
- In 2018, postgraduate bursaries administered by SU rose to R238 million, of which nearly R19 million came from the institution's own budget.
- SU continues to lead nationally in terms of its number of published patent applications (111 over the period 2009–2018). The number of spin-out companies assisted by Innovus, which is responsible for technology transfer, has gone up from 17 in 2014 to 29 in 2018. Their employees now number 267, compared with 208 in 2014.
Council approved a new framework for the appointment or reappointment of senior professional, administrative and support services (PASS) staff members at SU. The aim is to simplify and speed up the previous cumbersome and time-consuming process.
The framework covers post levels 1–4 (i.e. Rector and Vice-Chancellor, vice-rectors, Chief Operating Officer, Registrar, deans, chief directors and senior directors). It is envisaged that (re)appointments at these levels would now be completed in a shorter timeframe thanks to smaller selection committees, input of appropriate external experts, as well as more authority afforded to bodies and persons who best know the position and candidates.
In the new framework, a senior appointments committee will play a pivotal role. The committee will operate based on duly delegated responsibilities, authority and accountability. Its membership must reflect diversity in terms of race and gender.
Council approved the new framework at the recommendation of its Human Resources Committee (HRC[C]). The process of revising the existing regulations for senior PASS appointments started in mid-2017 already. The framework had gone through the full approval procedure, including input by the Rectorate, Institutional Forum, Senate and Council (including Council's Social and Business Ethics Committee), before it was approved.
Chief Director: Maties Sport
Ms Ilhaam Groenewald was reappointed for another five-year term as Chief Director: Maties Sport with effect from 1 August 2019. Council noted that the HRC(C) had taken this decision at the recommendation of the Rector and the Chief Operating Officer. It was based on a favourable assessment of her first term, and her compelling vision for the term ahead.
Ms Khungeka Njobe attended her last meeting as a member of the SU Council. She had resigned to take up a new position at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, which would not only demand more of her time, but also create a potential conflict of interest, as her portfolio entails liaising with all universities. Council expressed its appreciation for her services, which commenced on 5 May 2015. She was one of two members appointed by Council itself, and a process to fill the vacancy will now be set in motion.
Ms Carli van Wyk, in turn, attended her first Council meeting. She had been nominated as Council member for 2019 by the Students' Representative Council (SRC), which she chairs. At its meeting on Monday, Council appointed her as a member of its Language Committee.
The next meeting of the SU Council is scheduled for 18 June 2019.
SRC Chairperson Ms Carli van Wyk, middle, with Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers, left, and Council Chair Mr George Steyn. PICTURE: STEFAN ELS