On Monday 30 November, the Stellenbosch University (SU) Council held its fourth and final scheduled meeting of 2020, a year dramatically affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. The meeting took place in hybrid mode, with some members gathering in the Van der Sterr building (strictly observing all applicable regulations and health protocols), while others participated online.
Council expressed its deep appreciation to staff and students of the University for displaying resilience and adaptability throughout this extraordinary year, helping the institution overcome the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.
We approved the University's 2021 budget, including adjustments to staff remuneration and student fees. Moreover, we reappointed two of SU's deputy vice-chancellors (DVCs) – Profs Nico Koopman and Hester Klopper – with the support of the Institutional Forum and Senate. They will each serve a second term in charge of the University's portfolios of Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel, and Strategy and Internationalisation respectively.
Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers tabled his quarterly management report (click here), while the Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching (L&T), Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel – who will be retiring at the end of the year – delivered an overview of achievements in his responsibility centre over the past eight years.
Read on for more on these issues as well as other discussions and decisions at the meeting.
All the best with the last duties of the year. After an eventful 2020, our spirits will no doubt be lifted as we watch thousands of SU students graduate from 14 to 16 December (click here for details). Enjoy the upcoming break and return safely in 2021, when SU plans to resume most on-campus activities to the fullest extent possible, COVID-19 permitting.
Chair: SU Council
Rector's management report to Council
In his management report (find link to the full document above, and click here for a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation), Prof De Villiers pointed out that it took acuity of vision to stick to the University's strategic direction when the coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020. All of the institution's plans became focused on just two priorities – completing the academic year and ensuring SU's sustainability – and the University has done well in both respects.
He identified two key success factors in this regard. The first was the University's ability to rapidly switch to emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment (ERTLA) when contact tuition was suspended in March. The second was the setting up of an Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC), which ensured a well-coordinated and agile University response .
Council passed a unanimous motion congratulating the Rector and his management team on “their leadership, commitment and perseverance demonstrated this past year to keep the academic programme on track and maintain stability as part of the University's response to the COVID-19 pandemic".
Council approved the University's integrated budget for 2021 and financial planning for the period 2022 to 2026 at the recommendation of its Executive Committee. Chief Operating Officer Prof Stan du Plessis reported that the budget process had been participatory, and that the budget model ensured predictability and transparency.
The salient features of next year's budget are as follows:
- Tuition fees will increase by 3,66% for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, including international enrolments. This represents an inflation-related adjustment to cover the annual increase in costs at the University and is less than the 4,7% proposed by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.
- Student accommodation fees will increase by 5,9% in light of the escalating cost factors associated with this line item, which has to be self-sustaining and dealt with separately, as required by government. The increase is less than the 6,7% proposed by the minister.
- At the recommendation of Council's Remuneration Committee, there will be a general increase of 3,2% in staff remuneration. (This was the inflation rate in July, when the budget process started.) Council also approved a once-off payment to staff equal to 1% of their total-cost-to-company package, as a gesture of gratitude for work done under difficult circumstances in 2020, which will be made at the beginning of 2021
The main budget totals R3,26 billion, of which 49,4% will go to faculties, 26,9% to the institutional component, 21,1% to professional administrative support services, and 2,6% to strategic initiatives.
SU's total integrated budget for 2021 is R6,94 billion. This includes contract research, donations and commercial activities, from which the University generates most of its total income (47,1%). SU's state subsidy accounts for 27,2% of integrated budget revenue, and student tuition and accommodation fees for 23,2%. Other revenue sources contribute 2,5% to the budget.
The financial impact of COVID-19
Since March 2020, when a national state of disaster was declared to contain the spread of COVID-19, SU has operated under unprecedented uncertainty. To protect the University against unforeseen expenses, Council authorised nearly R105 million to be held in reserve.
From the state, SU received an initial R7,7 million in COVID-19 responsiveness grant funds for teaching and learning, and, in October, another R14,9 million for campus readiness. However, in the same month, SU's regular block grant from the state for 2020 was cut by R20,5 million.
Major COVID-19-related costs
- Purchase of 1 800 laptops for students: R13,7 million
- Data bundles for students from April to December: R14,4 million
- Payment arrangements and relief measures: R0,9 million
- No-stay-no-pay principle in SU residences: R205,8 million loss in income
Council expressed concern at government's precarious fiscal position, as was evident from the medium-term budget policy statement at the end of October. SU's main budget has been prepared against the backdrop of the current steep recession in South Africa, as well as two notable sectoral risks, namely the sustainability of the state subsidy and potential regulation of student fees.
The approval of the budget is conditional on final confirmation of the state subsidy towards the end of 2020. For this reason, as is customary, Council mandated the Rector and the chair and deputy chair of Council to approve any budget amendments arising from the confirmation of the subsidy, following consultation with the chair of the Audit and Risk Committee. However, in the event of material amendments, a Council meeting would need to be convened.
Report of the Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching
The Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching (L&T), Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, used his annual reporting opportunity to provide Council with an overview of achievements in his responsibility centre (RC) – not just over the past year, but for the eight years he had served in this capacity (2012–2020). He will be retiring at the end of the year after a career of 28 years at SU. Prior to his two terms as Vice-Rector: L&T, he served two terms as dean of the Faculty of Engineering (2002–2012) and was a core member of the team who built SUNSAT, Africa's first locally developed satellite successfully put into earth's orbit in 1999.
In his management report (click here for the complete document, and here for a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation), Prof Schoonwinkel identified five top legacies of the team in his RC during his tenure, namely:
- the Council-funded “Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Learning and Teaching" project launched in 2014;
- working through the #FeesMustFall protests in 2015;
- SU's multilingual Language Policy of 2016;
- the roll-out of a business plan for hybrid learning; and
- seeing through the 2020 academic year despite COVID-19.
Council thanked Prof Schoonwinkel for his final report, and in a unanimous motion congratulated him on “the leadership demonstrated, the progress made and success achieved, aligned with SU's strategy, while he held this position".
Highlights in Prof Schoonwinkel's RC include the following, presented by SU core strategic theme:
A thriving SU
- No fewer than 95 departments/programmes were externally evaluated from 2012 to 2020, laying a solid foundation for academic excellence through quality assurance and enhancement.
- Staff in the L&T RC have steadily become more diverse. The percentage of black African, coloured, Indian and Asian members have increased from 37% in 2013 to 53% in 2020.
- Revenue from learning and teaching accounts for more than 75% of SU's main budget.
Transformative student experience
- SU's student body is also becoming increasingly diverse. In 2012, 27% of undergraduates and 50% of postgraduates were from the black African, coloured, Indian and Asian population groups. This year, these figures were at 40% and 52% respectively.
- SU is broadening access through a multilingual academic offering – one of very few universities in the country to do so. More than 60% of undergraduate modules (as weighted by credits) are offered in dual medium (English and Afrikaans) and almost 20% in parallel medium.
- SU offers its students a wealth of experiential learning opportunities through a wide range of co-curricular programmes, 30 of which were formally accredited in 2020. More than 1 250 students will receive transcript recognition for co-curricular activities this year.
Purposeful partnerships and inclusive networks
- Student financial aid administered by SU (sourced not only from institutional funds, but also from donations and external funds for undergraduate bursaries and loans) has grown from around R200 million in 2010 to more than R600 million in 2020.
- Co-investment by Council, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and external donors enables SU to provide world-class facilities for learning and teaching, as well as top-notch student accommodation.
Networked and collaborative teaching and learning
- In order to ensure academic excellence of high, internationally comparable standards at SU, academic programmes are reviewed and renewed on an ongoing basis. From 2012 to 2020, 124 new and realigned programmes were introduced at SU (nearly half at master's degree level).
- According to throughput tables published by the DHET, SU is the top performer in terms of student success in South Africa. The latest cohorts show further improvement across all indicators. The graduation throughput rate for three-year undergraduate degrees is now 72,5%, 75,4% for four-year undergraduate degrees, and 88,7% for honours degrees. The undergraduate module success rate (i.e. students passing their modules) is at a high of 87,2%.
- Good progress is being made with implementing SU's hybrid learning (HL) business plan, which was approved in 2019 as one of SU's core strategies for L&T. The University is on track to increase the percentage of its students enrolled in HL from 10,8% in 2018 to 25% by 2025. HL combines short periods of contact tuition with online learning. It is particularly aimed at students who cannot study full-time. For now, SU's HL offering is focusing on short courses and taught postgraduate diplomas, honours-bachelors and master's degrees in business and management sciences, medicine and health sciences as well as ongoing teacher training.
Research for impact
- The annual SU Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) conference offers lecturers the chance to present their research and inspire emerging scholars. This year's event, which was presented fully online and focused on learning and teaching in the time of COVID-19, attracted more than 200 participants.
Employer of choice
- SU has multiple initiatives for academics to come into their own as educators and for recognising and rewarding lecturers. A good example is the annual Teaching Excellence Awards. This year, eight lecturers received acknowledgement for their dedication, professionalisation, innovation and self-reflection.
Council noted with appreciation that SU's research productivity (number of articles published) for 2020 to date was higher than for the corresponding period last year, according to data extracted from the Scopus database. In 2019, a total of 2 613 articles indexed in Scopus were published from January to October, compared to this year's 2 763. The more than 300 COVID-19-related articles by SU-associated authors picked up by our Library and Information Service on Google Scholar from April to October certainly played a part in this achievement.
The Rector reported that SU would be investing R120 million in postgraduate bursaries over the next three years to sustain the institution's efforts to conduct research for impact. This should make up for the recent decline in bursary funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF). The bursaries will also ensure that SU's centres of excellence and SARChI chairs continue to deliver highly qualified postgraduates to industry, and still conduct relevant research in service of society. The bursaries will be available on a competitive basis to any student in South Africa who is interested in studying at SU.
SU in the rankings
Council welcomed the news that, notwithstanding all the challenges of the year, SU continued to cement its place internationally. Since August, SU achieved the remarkable feat of being listed among the world's top universities on three different international rankings: Shanghai, Times Higher Education, and the US News & World Report.
The Rector emphasised that, while the University's focus was on academic and research excellence, the importance of rankings in the overall perception of an institution's standing could not be disregarded. At the same time, rankings remain a complicated and often controversial issue, which was explored in depth in a report to Council.
In a related development, Council was briefed on a dynamic statistical profile of various aspects of the institution that had been added as a new feature to SU's website. The profile provides audited statistics and detailed breakdowns of, among others, student enrolments and qualifications awarded over the past ten years. Click here to access it.
Student Disciplinary Code amended
Council approved a number of amendments to the Disciplinary Code for Students of Stellenbosch University aimed at addressing certain points highlighted since the implementation of the code in 2017. The amendments came after a revision of the code as well as institution-wide consultation with stakeholders and structures. The Institutional Forum, Senate as well as Council's Social and Business Ethics and Audit and Risk committees all approved the changes. The amendments affect clauses relating to academic misconduct, the temporary suspension of a student pending a disciplinary inquiry, and the functioning of the Central Disciplinary Committee, among others.
Language Committee of Council
Council received another report from its Language Committee. Council took note of the argument that the increased uptake of e-learning due to the impact of COVID-19 presented an opportunity for the further advancement of multilingualism. The committee confirmed that a research proposal in this regard was being formulated.
The committee praised faculties for the “innovative ways in which they promote multilingualism in their environments", and professional administrative support services (PASS) environments for their “considered engagement with the Language Policy" of the University.
Prior to the meeting on Monday, Council members went on a tour of new facilities on Stellenbosch campus. It is clear that campus renewal is well under way, with acknowledgement to Facilities Management. Some of the exciting developments in this regard are as follows (consult the Rector's report for more details):
- An art installation to celebrate the Constitution of South Africa has been unveiled in front of the Old Main Building. It forms part of efforts to make Stellenbosch University more inclusive.
- The new Jan Mouton Learning Centre, a cutting-edge building located in the centre of Stellenbosch campus and available to all faculties, will become operational in the 2021 academic year. Its two 260-seat multipurpose lecture halls, two 135-workstation electronic classrooms and two 350-seat conference auditoriums make the centre ideally suited to the expansion of hybrid learning at SU.
- A large photovoltaic (PV) installation on the roof of the Neelsie Student Centre to generate solar power will be completed in January 2021. The panels will yield 391 kWp (kilowatts at peak performance), which will be fed directly into the supply side of the building. The system will substantially reduce electricity consumption at the Neelsie and Jan Mouton Learning Centre, and achieve significant savings for the University.
- In a first-of-its-kind initiative on Stellenbosch campus, the Victoria Street non-motorised transport (NMT) project will provide pedestrian pathways, tactile paving for persons with impaired vision, and bicycle lanes – all in one.
- A new decanting facility has been constructed in Hammanshand Road, opposite the Engineering complex, to serve as temporary office space for staff who need to vacate their buildings for renovation work. The modern building with state-of-the-art fittings can accommodate over 210 people. Ample outside parking is provided.
Council received an update on the SU branding project from Prof Hester Klopper.
What started out as a brand refresh project for SU at the beginning of 2019, has now evolved into the development of a new brand identity. Since the last Council meeting in September, the branding route has been adjusted to ensure broader institutional participation. Structured information-sharing and engagement sessions, facilitated workshops and an online survey, all aimed at consulting key institutional stakeholder groups, were completed during the pre-design phase in October 2020.
The main themes emerging from the engagement to date were shared with Council (click here for a presentation). These will inform the design brief to guide the appointed professional brand agency in creating a new visual identity. This will be followed by another round of engagement with stakeholders, including members of the Institutional Forum, Senate and Council. Short-listed options will be presented at interactive “town hall"-type sessions, and an electronic poll will also be conducted.
The proposed logo will then be tabled to statutory bodies, ending with Council for final approval.
Accelerating employment equity at SU
Council welcomed measures developed by management to advance employment equity at SU. These include the accelerated implementation of the Code for Employment Equity and Diversity, which was approved earlier this year. In future, environments will do succession planning and launch recruitment processes in line with the code.
Monitoring mechanisms are to be developed and implemented to advance progress towards achieving greater diversity in the staff corps. The transformation and renewal of SU's institutional culture through the recently revised Siyakhula (“We are growing") programme is also supported.
Areas where current regulations for the appointment and reappointment of senior PASS staff should be improved will be identified. This will include the introduction of measures to ensure that the Senior Appointments Committee is appropriately diversified.
Council structures and members
Council welcomed Mr Xola Njengele and Ms Ayesha Abou-Zeid to their first meeting as members appointed by the Students' Representative Council for the term 21 September 2020 to 26 September 2021.
Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel and Mr Charl Cillié attended their last Council meeting and were thanked for their service since 2012 and 2018 respectively. As mentioned, Prof Schoonwinkel will be retiring at the end of the year, while Mr Cillié will again be enrolling as a student in 2021, realising a life-long ambition to study medicine.
Council ratified the decision by its Executive Committee that the term of current Council committees be extended to the end of the year as a bridging measure. Council members newly appointed to the various Council committees at the meeting will start their two-year term on 1 January 2021.
Plans for 2021
Council noted that SU plans to resume most on-campus activities to the fullest extent possible next year, COVID-19 permitting. The University will reopen on 4 January 2021, and plans are being put in place for staff members to return to the office at the appropriate stage, if it is possible for them to do so, and in consultation with their line managers. The welcoming programme for newcomer first-year students will start on 4 March with their arrival on campus and at residences, and all undergraduate classes are set to commence on 15 March. (Postgraduate students and some academic programmes have earlier starting dates.) The goal is to resume face-to-face tuition, augmented with some online learning in line with COVID-19 regulations on class sizes and physical distancing. Dates for 2021 are available in the SU Almanac on the SU homepage (click here), and updates will be posted on SU's dedicated COVID-19 webpage (click here).
The next Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 13 April 2021.
(CAPTION: Members of the SU Council are shown a lecture hall in the new ultramodern Jan Mouton Learning Centre as part of their campus tour ahead of their meeting Monday morning, 30 November 2020.)