Dear colleagues and students
As the 2021 academic year officially
gets going today (15 March 2021), I am pleased to bid you all a warm welcome!
And I’m not alone in my excitement
at having you back. This time, “town and gown” are joining forces in welcoming
all students and staff to campus. We are convinced that if we all do our bit,
we can safely keep both SU and the rest of the town open and functioning
optimally, for everyone’s benefit.
On Friday, the chair of the
Students’ Representative Council, the Stellenbosch mayor and the CEO of Visit
Stellenbosch joined me in iconic Victoria Street to take the picture
accompanying this communiqué. Do look out for their messages in the local media
as part of the joint marketing campaign we have launched especially for the
return of our students and staff.
My message is simple: It is good
to be back on campus; let’s keep it that way!
So, why are we back despite
COVID-19? Under the current level-1 lockdown, higher education institutions may
bring all their students and staff to their campuses. Yet we also have a more
substantial underlying reason for our approach this year.
From an education point of view, as
a world-class university, we are excited to be able to proceed with the
academic project in a way that further enhances what we managed to achieve in
difficult circumstances last year.
Therefore, in 2021, we want to move
beyond emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment. We want to
get back to face-to-face interaction as far as possible, augmented with
online elements to offer our students an optimal learning experience.
I agree with higher education
experts Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring who, in their book The
Innovative University, state that “a university’s professors and face‐to‐face meeting spaces … are unique and
potentially invaluable”. At SU in particular, I believe we have two factors in our favour:
· Place – Our campuses, ideal for a transformative
student experience, are located in one of the most beautiful parts of our
country and boast top facilities and unparalleled extramural experiences.
· People – SU is home to leading researchers
and lecturers, and also offers comprehensive student support to ensure academic
excellence, along with stimulating exposure to the diverse ideas of colleagues
and classmates from across the country and the globe.
But, of course, we still are in the midst of a
pandemic, so we require strict adherence to our comprehensive protocols and
measures to combat COVID-19. Everyone coming to our campuses must self-screen
using Higher Health’s HealthCheck app, which is available at https://healthcheck.higherhealth.ac.za.
Our Campus Health Service, in
collaboration with local and provincial health authorities and hospitals, is
geared to attend to the well-being of our staff and students. But, at the end
of the day, we each have to take responsibility for our own actions.
So, please wear your mask,
maintain a safe physical distance from others, and sanitise your hands and
surfaces. If we stick to this simple regimen – wherever we go – we stand a
good chance of reducing the spread of COVID-19, and of thriving as institutions,
communities and people.
Looking back on the past 12 months,
we have much to celebrate. Yet SU has certainly not escaped the devastation,
pain and loss caused by the coronavirus. Let us honour the memory of all who
have lost their lives to COVID-19. May they rest in peace, and may their
family, friends and colleagues find the strength to carry on.
Clearly, what initially began as a sprint early on in
2020, and soon turned into a marathon for the remainder of the year, is now an
ultramarathon looming ahead of us for the foreseeable future. We will need to
dig very deep to ensure that we maintain momentum, especially since we face
other challenges as well. These include concerns about NSFAS funding (click here for our undertaking)
and SU’s Language Policy (for our statement, click here).
I have no doubt, however, that we can overcome these challenges
if we work together.
All the best for the year. As in
2020, the University’s overarching goals for 2021 again are to complete the
academic year successfully and remain sustainable as a leading higher education
institution. Throughout, the safety, health and well-being of our staff and
students remains a top priority.
We don’t know what tomorrow may
bring, but we do know we have to build the post-coronavirus future today. Let’s
go forward together.
Prof Wim de Villiers
Rector and Vice-Chancellor