On Monday 2 December, the Stellenbosch University (SU) Council convened for its fourth and final scheduled meeting of an eventful 2019, the first year of our second century as a public university.
Council accepted the Fourie report and welcomed the Constitutional Court ruling on SU's Language Policy. We also diarised former judge Edwin Cameron's official inauguration as the University's 15th Chancellor for 8 April 2020. His term of office will commence on 1 January.
Council approved the University's 2020 budget, including adjustments to staff remuneration and student fees. Moreover, we gave approval for SU, as an institution, to officially adopt the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (www.globalcodeofconduct.org).
As is customary, the Rector, Prof Wim de Villiers, tabled his quarterly management report (click here), while the Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, was afforded an opportunity to report on his responsibility centre's activities of the past year.
Read on for more on these issues as well as other decisions and agenda points at the meeting. All the best with the last duties of the year. Enjoy the upcoming break and return safely for 2020!
Chair: SU Council
Constitutional Court on SU Language Policy
Council welcomed the Constitutional Court's unanimous ruling on 10 October 2019 that found SU's Language Policy to be “constitutionally justified". The court also found that the process the University had followed to adopt the Language Policy was thorough, exhaustive, inclusive and properly deliberative.
Judge Burton Fourie's report
Council also noted the decision by its Executive Committee (EC(C)) on 31 October 2019 to launch an independent inquiry following allegations that the Rector had attempted to interfere with the Language Policy case.
The inquiry was conducted by retired judge Burton Fourie, and Council received, discussed and accepted his report. Judge Fourie could find “no evidence to support a finding that the conduct of the Rector in regard to the nomination of Justice [Edwin] Cameron for the position of Chancellor of the Stellenbosch University constituted a serious violation of the law or serious misconduct".
Council resolved to publish judge Fourie's report in full (click here), that no further action be taken with regards to the Rector's contact with Justice Cameron to ask him if he would make himself available as a candidate for the SU Chancellorship, and to regard the entire matter as finalised.
Council approved the University's integrated budget for 2020 and financial planning for the period 2021 to 2025 at the recommendation of the EC(C). 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:
- Student fees will increase by 6,2% (which is within the 6-8% range of the “social compact" between Universities South Africa (USAf) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), excluding business schools). Allowance has been made for differentiated adjustments in relation to courses that had been priced too low compared to similar offerings at other universities.
- Student housing fees will increase by 8% (in light of the escalating cost factors associated with student accommodation).
- At the recommendation of Council's Remuneration Committee, staff remuneration will increase by 5,5% for those who attained a performance score of 3 or higher in the 2019 appraisal cycle. (This proposed increase is above inflation, which stood at 3,7% in October.)
- Inetkey will fall. Currently, internet users at SU need to log in through this mechanism and are charged for internet access based on actual use. Until new access measures have been put in place, users will still have to log in, but cost-per-use will no longer be recovered from 2020. Faculties and support services divisions have already budgeted for staff internet costs, while student internet costs will be recovered from the institutional block of the main budget.
The main budget totals R3,1 billion, of which 49,5% goes to faculties, 27,3% to the institutional component, 20,6% to professional administrative support services (PASS), and 2,6% to strategic initiatives.
SU's total integrated budget for 2020 is nearly R6,7 billion. This includes contract research, donations and commercial activities, from which the University generates most of its total income (47,3%). SU's state subsidy has dropped to 27,4%, and student and housing fees total 22,6%. Other revenue accounts for 2,6%.
SU's total assets are valued at R15,7 billion, and current capital projects (new builds and maintenance of existing facilities) amounts to nearly R2,2 billion.
Council was pleased to note that the level of state expenditure on higher education had climbed to above 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Nevertheless, Council expressed its concern at the sustainability of the extended NSFAS bursary scheme and government's poor fiscal position, as was evident from the recent medium-term budget statement. In addition, the possibility of student fee regulation poses a risk to the higher education sector.
The approval of the budget is subject to final confirmation of the state subsidy for 2020. For this reason, Council customarily mandated the Rector and the chair and deputy chair of Council to approve any budget amendments arising from the confirmation of the state 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.
Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings
Council gave approval for SU to officially adopt the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (www.globalcodeofconduct.org). This was at the recommendation of Senate, who, in turn, accepted a recommendation to this effect by the Research and Research Ethics committees of Senate on 22 November. The code, which will be adhered to across SU, serves as a guideline for equitable and fair relationships between researchers and the communities – particularly poor and marginalised groups – among which they conduct their research, and is based on fairness, respect, compassion and honesty.
This follows on the publication of a controversial article on race and cognition by SU researchers in May this year. Prof Eugene Cloete, Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, reported to Council that the comprehensive inquiry into various aspects of the aforementioned article had been completed. More information will be shared with key role-players as soon as possible.
Report of the Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching
At this Council meeting, the Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching (VR:L&T), Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, received an opportunity to report on his responsibility centre's activities over the past year. Click here for his full report (which also served before Senate on 22 November) and here for a pdf version of his PowerPoint presentation.
Prof Schoonwinkel pointed out that executing SU's vision of being Africa's leading research-intensive university starts with admitting a diverse pool of talented students and providing them with quality education.
He also explained that all six of SU's core strategic themes are being promoted in the Learning and Teaching responsibility centre. Highlights include the following:
A thriving SU
- This year, SU admitted 31 681 students (official June figure) – two thirds at undergraduate level and a third at postgraduate level. The most popular study area is the broad field of natural sciences (44,6%), followed by management sciences (29,3%) and humanities (26,1%).
- Revenue from learning and teaching accounts for more than 75% of SU's main budget.
Transformative student experience
- SU's student body is becoming increasingly diverse. In 2012, 26,8% of our undergraduates and 50,2% of postgraduates were from the black African, coloured, Indian and Asian population groups. This year, these figures are at 38,7% and 53,7% respectively. The most significant increase has been in the number of applications from black African students, which has grown by 43% over the past four years.
- SU is committed to rooting out unfair discrimination and any form of harassment and violence on its campuses. Six joint working groups are currently being established to combat gender-based violence.
Purposeful partnerships and inclusive networks
- This year, the telematics school project, a joint initiative between SU and the Western Cape Department of Education, reached more than 3 000 learners in 1 228 schools with supplementary curriculum support in nine subjects. This has improved the matric pass rate in the participating schools by 11,83%.
Networked and collaborative teaching and learning
- SU's project for ICT in learning and teaching, which totals R358 million, has been carried out successfully over the past five years. Two of the many project highlights have included installing all planned fibre-optic cabling and equipping most lecture halls with WiFi.
- SU will now be focusing on expanding its hybrid learning offering, which combines online components with traditional contact lectures. Some 11% of the University's students are already being served in this way, and the aim is to increase this to 25% by 2025.
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 attracted 81 presentations and approximately 313 participants.
Employer of choice
- SU has multiple initiatives for academics to come into their own as educators, and for lecturers to receive recognition.
Language Committee of Council
Council received the fourth report of the year from its Language Committee. The committee noted the results of the language survey conducted in September 2019 among SU students and, for the first time, among staff. Previously, two surveys were conducted among students, in 2017.
Most of the students who participated indicated Afrikaans as their home language (52%), followed by English (35%). Yet the students expressed a preference for English lectures (66%), tutorials (63%) and learning material (71%) – up from 2017 in all three instances. The second strongest preference was for the use of both Afrikaans and English in the learning setting. Most students felt included in communication in the living, co-curricular and administrative environments.
The staff survey pointed to a high level of compliance with the implementation of the three teaching language options – parallel, double and single-medium. The committee commended faculties and support services environments for their continuous reflection on the implementation of the Language Policy.
Capital projects at SU (new builds and maintenance of existing facilities) amount to nearly R2,2 billion. The Rector reported on two of the largest projects currently being carried out.
The Jan Mouton Learning Centre next to the Neelsie will be completed towards mid-2020. This three-storey building with various lecture rooms and multipurpose spaces is being equipped with advanced technology to keep pace with the latest trends.
Construction on a new Biomedical Research Institute at our Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences is also making rapid progress. Upon completion in 2022, it will be one of Africa's most innovative and advanced facilities of its kind.
SU now boasts 473 academics with a National Research Foundation (NRF) rating – 92% more than ten years ago. Previously, rated researchers had access to incentive funding. In 2018, however, the NRF had to make significant cuts to this funding due to budgetary pressures. Nevertheless, according to SU's Division of Research Development, the number of applicants in the subsequent round of rating applications remained fairly stable. This shows that the rating process is regarded as a measure of the quality of research instead of a mere tool to access funding.
Stellenbosch Network launched
The Rector reported that Innovus hosted the official launch of the Stellenbosch Network (SN) in November. SU is one of the founding members of the network, which is aimed at facilitating inclusive economic growth for the greater Stellenbosch area. The network will work across sectors and disciplines to bring together local business, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, students, local multinationals and the municipality to establish Stellenbosch as a knowledge region economy.
Institutional Plan 2020–2025
An updated SU Institutional Plan (IP) needs to be submitted to DHET by 15 December each year. The IP covers a rolling six-year period – in this instance, 2020–2025. On Monday, Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation, tabled this year's updated IP to Council, who approved the plan.
The updated IP is aligned with SU's new Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019–2024 as well as its supporting Strategic Plan 2019–2024. The budget model has been streamlined and SU's strategic management indicators have been amended.
Thanks to stronger alignment between responsibility centre and faculty environmental plans, the new strategic framework, the strategic plan and the IP, the process of compiling the IP is now much simpler. The IP has been reduced from more than 1 000 pages last year to only 250 this year.
Advocate Jean Meiring has been appointed to the senior appointments committee for a new Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching to replace Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, who will be retiring on 31 December 2020. The process to appoint his successor has been initiated. Mr Ainsley Moos will serve as Advocate Meiring's substitute if necessary. Mr George Steyn is also available to serve as a member, while Prof Wim de Villiers will chair the committee.
Ms Gwen Ngwenya has been appointed to the Social and Business Ethics Committee of Council.
Council bid farewell to Prof Usuf Chikte and thanked him for his service. He had been appointed by Senate and will be finishing his second term at the end of the year.
The next scheduled Council meeting will take place on Monday 6 April 2020.