The Council of Stellenbosch University (SU) held its first of four scheduled meetings for the year on Tuesday 13 April 2021. As in December 2020, we again met in hybrid mode, with some members gathering on campus (observing all COVID-19 protocols) and others participating online.
SU did extremely well in trying circumstances last year, having completed the 2020 academic year successfully despite a rapid switch to online mode when contact tuition was suspended nationwide in March. In the end, no fewer than 9 079 qualifications were awarded to students from all backgrounds, including 270 doctoral degrees – among the highest of all universities in South Africa.
These accomplishments, along with many others highlighted in the reports tabled at the meeting, led Council to unanimously adopt two motions – one of confidence in management; and another of appreciation for all staff members. Council confirms that maintaining academic excellence remains the best strategy to ensure SU's sustainability (full text below).
We were also pleased to adopt a new logo for the University, which favourably positions SU in the local, regional and global higher education landscape as an institution with world-class academic standing, aspiring to be Africa's leading research-intensive university by 2040. Council congratulated the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation, Prof Hester Klopper, on spearheading this important project the past three years.
In addition, we approved the constitution of a new School for Climate Studies at SU, which paves the way for the imminent establishment of what promises to be a groundbreaking transdisciplinary initiative in the battle against climate change. It will consolidate and integrate current thinking on climate in Africa, and facilitate the continent-wide transfer of know-how and emerging technologies to help build resilience to climate change.
Council is confident that SU is well placed to again meet its overarching goals this year: succeeding with the academic project, and remaining sustainable as a leading higher education institution, while prioritising the well-being of our students and staff. As we move deeper into the second year of COVID-19, our University's focus is no longer only on mitigating the pandemic, but also on continuing to build a future beyond it.
Please read on for more on these issues as well as other discussion points and decisions at our meeting.
Kind regards, and stay safe
Chair: SU Council
Motions of confidence and appreciation
The following motions were adopted unanimously:
“That the SU Council adopt a motion of confidence in management and express their support for the manner in which management, guided by the vision and values of the University, managed the institution with integrity in challenging circumstances to maintain and expand academic performance. Over the past few years, SU has performed exceptionally well in the academic field, demonstrating extraordinary agility and adaptability. Council confirms that maintaining academic excellence remains the best strategy to ensure SU's sustainability.
We also wish the Rector a speedy recovery, and hope he returns to work soon."
(Prof De Villiers attended the meeting online from home, where he was recuperating after testing positive for COVID-19 on 7 April 2021. Click here for a previous news item about this.)
“That the SU Council adopt a motion of appreciation for, and congratulations to, all staff of the institution, who not only sustained their high performance, but excelled in the challenging circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020."
Academic year concluded successfully
Since the last Council meeting, the 2020 academic year was concluded successfully with two series of graduation ceremonies (December 2020 and March/April 2021).
In total, SU awarded 9 079 qualifications, as well as five honorary doctorates (to Ms Louisa Mojela, Prof Daya Reddy, Ms Nasima Badsha and Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim, and posthumously to Ms Rachel Kachaje).
Council extended its congratulations to all and expressed great pride in the academic excellence of the University and its significant contribution to the development of our country, our continent and the rest of the world.
Registration and enrolments for 2021
Council was briefed on the 2021 registration process, which was successfully completed by the end of March, despite challenges with funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). SU's Student Debt Task Team annually works towards removing financial blockages that could prevent students from registering. This year, bursaries were secured for more than 500 students to cover their outstanding student fees.
According to the latest figures, 20 867 undergraduates enrolled this year, up 4% from last year. Council welcomed this vote of confidence in the University's academic offering.
Applications for 2022 open on SUNStudent
Council noted with appreciation that SUNStudent phase 1 had gone live, with applications with a view to 2022 having opened on 6 April. And the numbers look promising: Within the first week, nearly 16 000 prospective students signed up, and close to 7 000 completed applications were submitted.
SUNStudent is SU's new student information system that is gradually replacing the current outdated system. It not only boasts modern interfaces, providing a better overall user experience, but also promises to be capable of responding to new and rapidly changing requirements..
New logo for SU
A journey that started more than three years ago culminated in Council approving a new visual identity for the University, including a new logo, on Tuesday.
The new logo represents SU's vision, which is to be “Africa's leading research-intensive university, globally recognised as excellent, inclusive and innovative, where we advance knowledge in service of society".
The commemoration of the University's centenary in 2018 provided us with the opportunity to plan for the future SU we wish to create. We did that with Vision 2040, and the new logo succeeds in visually encapsulating where we are now and where we are headed.
Following the adoption of Vision 2040, an institution-wide visual touchpoint audit was conducted, which revealed that more than 170 logos were being used in the SU brand stable. Clearly, our brand was being diluted, which led to the decision to move towards a single visual identity.
In total, 3 100 stakeholders participated and contributed to the process of developing and co-creating SU's new logo – including students, staff and alumni, all ten faculties, the Visual Redress Committee, Institutional Transformation Committee and the Students' Representative Council. Before taking its decision on Tuesday, Council noted that both the Institutional Forum and Senate, two of our statutory bodies, supported the logo option presented to Council.
Once the new visual identity system has officially been launched later in 2021, the roll-out and implementation process will commence. Until then, the current SU (centenary) logo remains in place.
Click here for more information, including answers to frequently asked questions.
Research, innovation and postgraduate studies
Prof Eugene Cloete, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, used his annual reporting opportunity to provide Council with an overview of highlights in his responsibility centre (RC) since his appointment nine years ago. (Click here for his management report, and here for a pdf of his PowerPoint presentation.)
The following highlights – presented under SU's core strategic themes – are based on data from 2012 to 2020, unless specified otherwise:
A thriving Stellenbosch University
SU's third-stream income (from research contracts) has nearly doubled in the past nine years, from about R500 million to almost R1 billion per year, of which 70% is international funding. This contributes to the institutional goal of creating a financially sustainable organisation and shows that the University is globally recognised. Even in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic a significant number of research contracts were signed.
A transformative student experience
For any research-intensive university, awarding doctoral degrees is crucial. SU's numbers have increased from 150 in 2012 to 270 in 2020.
Purposeful partnerships and inclusive networks
Connection and interaction with business, industry and government is important to leverage our strengths. A significant number of new research institutes and research centres have been created across all SU faculties over the past nine years.
Networked and collaborative teaching and learning
SU's School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, established in 2019, is making good progress towards its vision of being a world-class institution in its field, both in and for Africa.
Research for impact
The latest report of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on research outputs (in 2019) indicates that SU produced 1,72 publication outputs per capita, which places the University second nationwide. SU's number of publication outputs increased by more than 75% since 2012.
For the past five years, SU has remained among the top universities as ranked by the DHET, as well as the top South African universities on all main international rankings (THE, QS, Leiden, etc.).
Over the period 2009–2020, SU produced the most patent applications in terms of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) in South Africa, outperforming other universities, research councils as well as private companies.
Employer of choice
The number of sponsored research chairs at SU has nearly tripled the past nine years, from 18 in 2012 to 52 in 2020.
Postdoctoral fellows have more than doubled, from 157 in 2012 to 350 in 2020. Postdocs continue to make a significant contribution to the University's academic performance.
SU researchers with a National Research Foundation (NRF) rating have also increased substantially, now standing at more than double the number of nine years ago. The University currently has 490 rated researchers.
Language Committee feedback
Council noted reports from its Language Committee and was also briefed on progress with the revision of SU's Language Policy (2016). The latter is taking place this year, as the policy is scheduled to lapse at the end of 2021, five years after its date of implementation (which was at the start of 2017). Council approved the timeline of the review at its previous meeting in December 2020.
According to feedback from the Language Policy Revision Task Team, the revision is on track. The first of two public consultation processes concluded on 12 April, as scheduled. (The first draft of the proposed revised policy was made available for public input on 20 March.)
The task team will now carefully consider all the submissions received, prepare a report, and release a second draft for public consultation in July. The process will conclude in December, when a final version is to be tabled at the relevant institutional committees for discussion and recommendation, and submitted to Council for approval, with the concurrence of Senate and after consultation with the Institutional Forum.
Click here for more information.
The Deputy-Vice Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation, Prof Hester Klopper, briefed Council on measures that were being taken to enhance strategic and proactive communication telling the University's story. Council noted with appreciation the creation of a structure in her office for streamlining communication about high-priority matters.
Reducing SU's carbon footprint
Council approved an internal loan to Facilities Management to finance a central heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) plant for the Faculty of Engineering's complex on SU's Stellenbosch campus. The plant will reduce SU's carbon footprint as well as the University's tax obligations under the new carbon tax. It will also achieve considerable energy savings, making up the cost of the loan over the medium term.
Systemic sustainability is one of the critical attributes of SU's vision and strategy. This includes the long-term cost-effective provision of sustainable energy. The aim is to reduce the University's CO2 emissions to net zero by 2030 by replacing our current fossil-fuel energy with renewable energy, including solar power.
In his management report (click here), the Rector reported that the new photovoltaic installation on the roof of the Neelsie student centre would make a considerable contribution in this regard. The installation was completed earlier this year. The system will substantially reduce the University's electricity bill and cut our carbon footprint by 6 000 tons of CO2 over the next 20 years.
Council approved an update to the University's budget model in respect of savings on the Human Resources component of the main budget. Council also confirmed the application of limits on reserves in main-budget balance cost centres, as provided for by the existing budget model.
SU Short-term Rental Policy
Council adopted a policy regulating all short-term rentals of SU facilities, such as theatres, halls, sports facilities and lecture venues. These rentals will no longer be decentralised. The policy covers all SU facilities and applies to all staff members, students as well as external parties involved in the short-term rental of SU facilities. The Central Events and Conferencing Office (CECO) at SUNCOM has been tasked with implementing the policy.
Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, SU's new Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC): Learning and Teaching, attended Council for the first time, having taken office in January.
In terms of the University's new Statute, which took effect in 2019, Council comprises 25 members, one of whom the Rector annually appoints on a rotational basis from the ranks of the DVCs. Prof Eugene Cloete attended Council for the first time in this capacity.
Council also congratulated Prof Cloete on his election as chairperson of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) community of practice (CoP) for entrepreneurial universities.
In addition, Council congratulated Prof Amanda Gouws, a Senate-elected Council member, on having been requested to serve as an advisor for the World Bank's Country Gender Assessment. Prof Gouws holds the SARChI chair in gender politics in SU's Department of Political Science.
The term of Mr Anthony Dietrich, a Council member appointed by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, expired on 22 March. In terms of the SU Statute, the Minister may appoint five members. Two of these positions are now vacant. Council awaits feedback from the Minister regarding new appointees.
The next meeting of the SU Council is scheduled for 21 June 2021.