This year started somewhere where two years of all that was COVID-19 left us. We hopped off one train onto another and kept rolling while we tried to catch up on all fronts.
For me, 2022 had tremendous highlights. One of them was reading Booker prize winner Damon Galgut's The Promise. Accoladed as "literary fiction at its finest", I cannot agree more. This novel takes you on a journey of a white family's decline during South Africa's transition out of apartheid. It is about a promise made, and for generations not kept, until the past could be laid to rest and (some of) the old wounds healed.
In a year in which Stellenbosch University (SU) once again made headlines for racist incidents and was found to be an "unwelcoming place" for black students and staff, this book was very relevant. Our priority from now on is to ensure our University becomes an environment where everyone feels welcome: where we can learn, stay, work, and teach together as the top research-led university in the world – a place connected to the world.
Building on five years
In January I will start my second, five-year term as Chief Operating Officer at SU. It's a privilege and honour to be given additional time to build on what our team started in 2018 when I stepped into this new role – wide-eyed and filled with excitement and ambition to creatively tackle the University's operational challenges and build a strong foundation for growth, learning, and prosperity.
It was exciting times, despite the curveballs: drought, fire, budget constraints, COVID-19, inflation, war internationally, and lately, cybersecurity incidents. We responded to all these challenges in characteristic fashion: we do not merely replace, restore, or repair, we build better.
We've created a magnificent greywater system and, together with behaviour change achieved a sustained 45 percent reduction in potable water consumption on campus. After a devastating fire at Huis ten Bosch in 2019, students moved into a much-improved space this year. We've survived COVID-19 and ensured two successful academic years despite various degrees of lock-down while accelerating our digitalisation strategy in creating a high-tech hybrid learning and teaching system.
We've improved residences and faculty buildings, built magnificent new buildings that attracted world-renowned researchers, paid carbon tax (to keep the campus running during loadshedding), and launched our environmental sustainability plan. We played soccer on the Danie Craven stadium, our student-athletes claimed gold at the Olympics, and are the Varsity netball champions. We've incubated new companies, won an international award for being an entrepreneurial university, got rid of the Inetkey, and made big strides toward doing our finances in the cloud – all of this while ensuring we stay within the goal posts of a sound financial budget.
Coming back to promises made, our RC adopted a well-defined employment equity plan in 2018 and there is considerable diversity in the staff component. From 2018 until 2022, we made 152 full-time appointments in our RC, of which 130 (86 percent) were BCI appointments. Over the same period, 123 colleagues were promoted, including 81 (66 percent) BCI colleagues. We will double down on these efforts. The RC has a succession grid and through training and development as an active strategy to advance staff transformation at all levels, I believe our transformation strategy will bear fruit in the years to come.
My vision for the second term has three major dimensions, and I'd like to share them with you:
The need to expand SU's academic footprint beyond the constraints of the public sector, both to more students and to more programmes for the same students;
The digitalisation of business processes, offers the most dramatic opportunity to change the University's administration in a long time;
The proactive mitigation of two great risks: cybersecurity and financial sustainability.
As COO, I give you my commitment to lead our RC, as in the past, with discipline, creativity, and an awareness of risks while I repeat my commitment to an optimistic and collaborative leadership style. Let's create a Stellenbosch University together where all South Africans will aspire to study and work.
I wish you and your families a blessed and well-deserved, holiday. Celebrate the festive season with vigour, stay safe, and join me next year to take on the challenges with renewed energy and passion.
With best wishes and gratitude,
Prof Stan du Plessis