Stellenbosch University's (SU) overarching priorities for 2021 remain the same as last year: to succeed with the academic project, and to remain sustainable as a leading higher education institution.
Addressing about 600 staff during the first virtual staff assembly of the year, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim De Villiers said that these 2021 priorities will be pursued while prioritising the health and safety of all students and staff.
“SU will not compromise on health and safety. Awareness campaigns to drive home the core messages to mask up, sanitise and avoid physical contact are being conducted on our campuses and on social media. I think we did well last year, and I have no doubt we will do so again this year," said De Villiers.
He also highlighted some of SU's successes in 2020 and outlined the way forward for SU staff and students. Among the 2020 SU highlights he mentioned, were:
- the historic December graduations, with over 5 000 students receiving diplomas, certificates and degrees;
- an increase in research productivity with the biggest contribution in terms of publications and doctoral graduates;
- the University co‐establishing Stellenbosch Unite, a collaborative movement that distributed food to vulnerable households throughout the pandemic;
- the Campus Health Service assisting the Stellenbosch town and Western Cape with screening, planning and protocols; and
- SU managing to retain its conditions of employment and most of its staff.
De Villiers also mentioned the “exciting developments" on SU campuses. Many of the University's campus renewal projects have been completed. Among some of the projects, which staff and students can look forward to, includes the Jan Mouton Learning Centre next to the Neelsie, the Victoria Street non-motorised transport project, renovations and upgrades to the Mechanical & Mechatronic Engineering buildings and the unique art installation in front of the Ou Hoofgebou to name a few.
Two other major projects coming to fruition this year, is the SUNFin and SUNStudent projects. The SUNFin project is an upgrade to the SU's financial systems by replacing the infamous “black screen" with a user-friendly, web-based interface.
The SUNStudent project entailed building a new student information system with modern interfaces that provides a better overall user experience. The new system will be able to respond to new and rapidly changing requirements and will go live on Tuesday 6 April 2021.
During the staff assembly, SU's new Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, talked about the plans for the new academic year. He mentioned SU's first-ever online onboarding programme that was launched on 1 February 2021 for all provisionally accepted first years, and which nearly 20% of the students have already been accessing.
“This is a fantastic initiative. Everything they need to know about SU is just a few clicks away! It will be available on SUNLearn, where they will be spending a lot of time as a student, so a good way to familiarise themselves with the platform," said Ramjugernath.
The onboarding programme will include topics on university life, time management, stress management, exam and study skills and financial literacy. There will also be an extensive FAQs section, videos of students sharing ways to cope at university and a virtual campus tour and info on available support will be easily accessible.
Ramjugernath also mentioned SU's Extended Learning Spaces project, which the University initiated in November last year. This ambitious and complex initiative aims to fast track the installation of advanced equipment in over 180 lecture venues to enable lecturers to stream and record lectures, as well as interact with students who are not physically present.
According to Ramjugernath, this project will put SU at the “forefront in terms of hybrid learning" and will give students an experience and quality similar to the actual in-class experience.
With regards to policy, SU's existing Language Policy (approved by Council in 2016) lapses this year, and it will be reviewed during 2021, its fifth year of operation. A task team has been convened and a final draft will be submitted to Council in December this year.
During the assembly, Prof Nico Koopman (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation & Personnel) announced that SU's comprehensive Staff Health and Wellbeing Plan was approved, which is aimed at improving the health and wellbeing status of SU staff, while also mitigating any risks that might be threatening to the wellbeing and health of staff members.
“We look forward to this important work in which all environments will be involved in. We commit ourselves to saying that staff health and wellbeing is both an institutional and individual responsibility," said Koopman.
He also reminded staff of SU's Staff Wellness Office partnership with the external service provider, Life Employee Health Solutions. This resource aims to assist staff and their families with a variety of personal and professional concerns within an environment of complete confidentiality. The service is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week, every day of the year.
SU staff is encouraged to visit the Human Resources pages on the SU website for more information on these services as well as all the latest information regarding return to work procedures and protocols for this year.
To watch the full Staff Assembly, click here.
Staff Assembly 2021-02-18.pdf