On Monday 21 September, the Stellenbosch University (SU) Council had its third meeting of 2020. Although the meeting took place on the first day of level 1 of the COVID-19 lockdown, which permits face-to-face gatherings, we decided to proceed online, as we did for the previous two meetings earlier this year.
In addition to the customary quarterly management report (click here) to Council by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, another two Rectorate members – the Chief Operating Officer (COO), Prof Stan du Plessis, and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation (DVC: SI), Prof Hester Klopper – tabled their respective responsibility centres' annual reports.
The marked and ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on university activities was highlighted in all three management reports. However, as the Rector pointed out, SU continues to pursue the institutional priorities and objectives outlined in its Strategic Framework 2019–2024.
Council members commended the Rectorate for the way in which they had been managing the complex processes under the various lockdown levels to ensure that students can complete the academic year successfully. Various Council members indicated that they had received positive feedback from external stakeholders on how well SU was doing in staying the course amidst all the uncertainty. However, Council also noted the Rector's report regarding the heavy demands made on staff and students.
As SU is faced with yet another challenge – this time having to adapt to level 1 – I would like to thank the entire University community for your excellent work, dedication and innovation in the face of adversity. We wish you all the best for the final quarter of this extraordinary year.
Council had fruitful discussions on various matters, including social media, management diversity and transformation. It was noted that the composition of Council had changed significantly in terms of diversity, from 24% black, coloured, Indian and Asian representation in 2013 to 48% in 2020, and from 13,8% female representation to 32% over the same period.
Please read on for more details about our meeting.
Chair: SU Council
Rectorate appointment and reappointments
Having considered the shortlisted candidates, Council voted on its preferred candidate to succeed Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel as Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching when he retires at the end of the year. An announcement will be made once the appointment process has been concluded.
Council accepted, with an overwhelming majority, the recommendation of its Human Resources Committee to follow the short procedure for the reappointment of both Prof Nico Koopman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel, and Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation, for a second term in office. The chair of Council will present the relevant documents to Senate and the Institutional Forum (IF) to vote on these two Rectorate members' reappointment, and the results will be presented to Council at its next meeting. Candidates who obtain a majority vote at Council at that stage will be reappointed.
Pivoting online in the time of COVID-19
Council expressed its appreciation for SU's swift adjustment to emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment in response to COVID-19. In the period under review, exams were conducted entirely online for the first time in the University's history. Faculties and departments, lecturers and support divisions made an extraordinary effort in a very short space of time to ensure that the mid-year exams could proceed. The exams went off relatively smoothly, with only a few exceptions. Staff worked under extreme pressure, but extensive support was provided to lecturers, tutors and students.
Multilingualism during emergency remote teaching
The Language Committee of Council reported on the online initiatives of the Language Centre specifically focused on the promotion of multilingualism during emergency remote teaching. Despite many challenges, there have been great successes, which have been well received by staff and students alike. These include the translation of podcasts, online consultations by the Writing Lab, and innovative new online courses and digital marketing amidst COVID-19. The Language Centre has received funding from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust for language-related student support during emergency remote teaching. The Language Committee also reflected on SU's good performance in the e-learning space in terms of developing a completely new pedagogy for online and hybrid learning.
Phased return of students and staff
Council noted that the University was working on pragmatic plans for the return of staff and students, which was being coordinated by the Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC). Under level 3, more than 5 000 students who needed to return for practical work and other academic reasons were brought back to SU campuses. Council noted that the University was keen to return to face-to-face tuition as soon as possible, but that there was no point or wisdom in rushing the process.
Council expressed its gratitude to donors who had partnered with SU on various projects in recent months (also see the section on multilingualism above).
The launch of the Dell Young Leaders programme at SU was formally announced last week, enabling students from low-income circumstances to receive increased support towards graduation. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) has pledged R191 million for this programme, which will seek to benefit 1 000 SU students over the next five years. The long-term commitment to SU is for at least ten years. In April, Council undertook to match the top-up scholarship component of the package, which amounts to R75 million.
The MSDF has also made a significant grant to SU for tailored academic and psychosocial student support, and an extensive programme of additional tutoring is currently being rolled out. In addition, the Harry Crossley Foundation has confirmed a special COVID-19 grant, which will enable the University to expand tutoring and mentoring to more students.
(Google) DeepMind have announced that their first postgraduate scholarships in Africa will be awarded to students at SU. Research on artificial intelligence and its real-world applications on our continent is much needed.
The response to the University's #MaskedMasterpieces public art project in Stellenbosch has been very positive. All funds raised will go towards student bursaries.
The MSDF has also made a major COVID-19 grant towards the digitalisation of the intensive care unit at Tygerberg Hospital.
Enrolments for 2020
As pointed out by the Rector in his report (click here for a slide show overview), total enrolments at SU now stand at 31 540, according to the official statistics released by the Division of Information Governance in June. Compared to last year, undergraduate enrolments have increased by 0,7%, and postgraduate enrolments by 0,4%.
Applications for 2021
Since the opening of applications for undergraduate studies in March, the University has been closely monitoring trends to determine whether the coronavirus pandemic would have a negative impact on the numbers. Yet application statistics reveal quite the opposite: Total applications have increased by 11%, complete applications by 9%, and provisional offers to candidates by 7%.
Prof Hester Klopper reported on the SU brand renewal project, and the amended process to allow for more engagement with stakeholders. Institutional governance structures will be consulted and an electronic platform be put in place for staff, students and alumni to provide online input on different logo design options. Council will be taking the ultimate decision once a final proposal has been tabled at its first meeting of 2021 (on 13 April).
SU in the rankings
Following a request by Council earlier this year, a report on SU's performance in the world university rankings served at this meeting. Prof Hester Klopper indicated that SU participated in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, ARWU (Shanghai) and Clarivate Analytics – by submitting the requested information – but not in the QS rankings. The report revealed a clear discrepancy between the national HEMIS data and ranking data submitted by South African universities. This may be due to the varied interpretation of the definitions used by the different rankings. Council noted with appreciation SU's ascent in the Times Higher Education rankings from the 351–400 band in 2018, to 301–350 in 2019, and to 251–300 in 2020, which position it has maintained for 2021.
The Council meeting started off with a moment of silence in honour of Ms Rachel Kachaje, who would have been awarded an honorary degree in December, but sadly passed away recently. Ms Kachaje tirelessly advocated for equal opportunities and rights for persons with disabilities in Malawi, the rest of Africa and the world. Her honorary degree will be awarded posthumously. Council also paid tribute to Dr David Piedt, a former SU Council member and recipient of an honorary degree in March 2012, who had passed away since the last Council meeting.
Council accepted Senate's recommendation to award six honorary degrees in 2021 and expressed overwhelming support for all six candidates. The recipients are Rwandan paediatrician Prof Agnes Binagwaho, Artscape CEO Ms Marlene le Roux, Group Chief Executive Officer of Women Investment Portfolio Holdings Ms Louisa Mojela, the mathematician Prof Daya Reddy and author Prof Marlene van Niekerk, and Chairperson of Umalusi Prof John David Volmink.
Mid-year financial report
Council accepted its Executive Committee's recommendation to approve the mid-year financial report (as at 30 June 2020), as required by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). Moreover, while not a DHET requirement, the Executive Committee also recommended the approval of the mid-year financial report for the accommodation budget.
The full financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University remains to be seen, but will likely be significant in terms of direct and indirect costs, as well as loss of revenue.
Responsibility centre (RC): Operations and Finance
COO Prof Stan du Plessis presented Council with a detailed report on activities in Operations and Finance over the past year. This RC is made up of the divisions of Finance, Facilities Management, Innovus and SUNCOM, Maties Sport and Information Technology (IT).
In 2020, business continuity emerged as an overriding objective. The RC head chairs SU's ICBC, an operational platform that facilitates the continuation of SU activities during the national state of disaster in response to COVID-19.
Click here for his full report, and here for a slide show. Highlights follow below:
Academic ICT support
SU's IT Division played a major part in helping the University's academic community transition from on-campus to mostly online functioning. With up to ten times more students now using SUNLearn at any given time, a more powerful server had to be installed on an emergency basis to cope with the increased workload.
Sweating SU's assets
Innovus, the University's technology transfer company, has set up five new spin-out companies this year, and is working on another one, which would make 2020 a record year in this respect. Nonetheless, the financial and other effects of the pandemic on SU's group of companies are cause for concern.
Maties Rugby retained the Varsity Cup in 2020, continuing their winning streak from 2018 and 2019. Maties Netball reached the finals of the University Sport South Africa (USSA) tournament. Most importantly, SU's high-performance athletes achieved an 85% pass rate in 2019, thanks in no small measure to the PACER programme.
Facilities Management looks after more than 400 SU buildings. SU continues to be one of the largest property developers in the Western Cape, with projects of more than R2 billion under way.
Interactive campus map
In April, the University introduced an interactive campus map (click here), which will benefit not only students, but also the local community and prospective students. The map has a search tool that allows users to easily find facility types such as parking areas, libraries and faculty buildings on four of SU's campuses.
SU's electricity usage is actively being reduced through infrastructural and other interventions. This resulted in a dramatic drop in carbon emissions of 5 828 tons between 2016 and 2019. The University also built its first large photovoltaic (PV) installation on the roof of the Neelsie student centre this year.
SU's water optimisation project was named a runner-up in this year's International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) awards in May. Phase 1 of the greywater system on Stellenbosch campus managed to reduce both municipal potable water consumption and irrigation water usage by 50%. In addition, more than 250 electronic water meters were installed, enabling the monitoring of hourly water consumption at 95% of University buildings.
Reported crime incidents on SU campuses have been on a downward trend since 2016. Contributing factors include the annual reassessment of high-risk areas, the expansion or redeployment of services to address these risks, as well as close collaboration with local authorities, law enforcement and student leaders. State-of-the-art security technology has further contributed to the decline in the crime rate.
RC: Strategy and Internationalisation
Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation, too provided Council with an extensive report her RC's activities the past year. This includes the divisions of Strategic Initiatives, Information Governance, Corporate Communication and Marketing, as well as SU International. Click here for her full report, and here for a slide show.
This RC's work cuts across all six of the University's core strategic themes as set out in SU's Strategic Framework 2019–2024. RC highlights in each of these areas the past year are as follows:
A thriving Stellenbosch University
The visual implementation and roll-out of SU's Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019–2024 continued this past year. The RC also hosted workshops about the University's values and started work on the development of a code of conduct for SU.
Strategic management indicators (SMIs) were finalised to guide the University in implementing its strategy towards achieving its vision. An SU scorecard was created as an innovative tool to track progress, using visualisation software to create effectiveness dashboards in particular areas.
A transformative student experience
In order to advance internationalisation, SU provides opportunities for both incoming and outgoing student mobility. In 2019/20, income of R7,2 million was generated through incoming Study Abroad students (170) and short-programme participants (295 students). This, in turn, helped cover the R5,7 million's travel bursaries awarded to 304 SU students for semester exchanges and summer school or short-programme participation abroad.
Purposeful partnerships and inclusive networks
SU's Africa Collaboration Grant has proven to be an invaluable mechanism to support research as well as teaching and learning activities between SU and other African universities. For 2019/20, a total of 68 grants valued at R2,2 million were awarded.
SU continues its engagement through multilateral collaborations and networks. These include the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global University Leadership Forum (Rector), the WEF Knowledge Partners Network (DVC: SI), Venice International University (with SU being the first African university to join this group of leading international universities), the International Sustainable Campus Network, the Academic Consortium for the 21st Century, the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, and the South Africa-Sweden University Forum.
Networked and collaborative teaching and learning
The annual summer and winter schools of SU's African Doctoral Academy have long been a way of boosting the PhD journeys of our continent's postgraduate students. The offering has now been expanded to include online courses, including a spring school.
Several successful joint schools were presented in partnership with universities elsewhere on the African continent, including in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria, over the past year. The joint schools programme includes the Emerging Scholars initiative in collaboration with the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).
Research for impact
The RC: SI helps support the research goals of the University by nurturing research partnerships and participating in research networks such as the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the Southern African Network of Water Centres of Excellence (SANWATCE). SU is also host to the secretariat of Periperi U (Partners Enhancing Resilience for People Exposed to Risks).
Employer of choice
SU provides staff mobility programmes through bilateral exchange agreements, the BRICS Mobility Grant, Erasmus+ training and teaching networks, the International Collaboration Mobility Grant, and the University's staff development programme.
Council welcomed a new member, Dr Lihle Qulu, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer in Human Physiology in SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Having been elected by permanent academic staff (non-Senate members) for the term 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2022, she will be filling the vacancy left by Prof Johan Fourie, who is now a member of Senate.
Council also congratulated Prof Amanda Gouws, who had been invited to act as an advisor for the World Bank's Country Gender Report; Prof André Keet, who had accepted a position as vice-rector at Nelson Mandela University; Dr Tsakani Ngomane, who will be joining the University of Pretoria as a senior lecturer; and Ms Christelle Feyt, who had been appointed as SU's senior director of Corporate Communication and Marketing.
Moreover, Council took leave of Mr Lewis Mboko and Ms Ingrid Heydenrych, both members of the outgoing Students' Representative Council (SRC), with appreciation for their services to Council over the past year. The new SRC members serving on Council will attend the meeting in November.
Council confirmed the appointment of Ms Nadine Moodie to its Investment Committee. Ms Moodie, who had been nominated by the Investment Committee, will be replacing Prof Johan Fourie, whose term expired in June.
Prof Reggie Nel, dean of the Faculty of Theology and a Council member, was appointed to the Social and Business Ethics Committee (SBEC) as substitute for Prof Fourie.
The next meeting of the SU Council is scheduled for 30 November 2020.