The Stellenbosch University (SU) Council held its second meeting of 2021 on Monday 21 June.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of a renewed rise in COVID-19 infections nationwide, which has prompted government to return the country to alert level 3.
Council expressed its solidarity with SU staff and students, who continue to push ahead in these challenging times. The fact that the University still manages to perform excellently on various fronts speaks volumes for the can-do attitude of its people.
At Monday's meeting, we received management reports and approved SU's 2020 annual integrated report, including the University's consolidated annual financial statements, amongst others.
A big thank you to all SU employees – both academic and PASS staff (professional and administrative support services) – for all their hard work, and all the best to our students for the exams that are currently under way.
Please read on for more details about our meeting.
Best regards and stay safe
Chair: SU Council
Management report of the Rector and Vice-Chancellor
As is customary, the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, presented a management report to Council. Click here to read the full version, and here for the PowerPoint presentation. Highlights follow below.
Record number of qualifications
When contact tuition was suspended nationwide in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19, the University responded by pivoting to emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment (ERTLA). Despite the sudden switch to new ways of working, SU still managed to award a record 9 236 qualifications for the 2020 academic year (March/April 2021 graduations included).
An important part of this success story was the extensive support programme rolled out behind the scenes. With financial support from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the Harry Crossley Foundation, SU was able to expand its capacity to develop additional multimedia educational material and offer more virtual academic tutoring, mentoring, psychosocial support and technical support to its students.
The SU Language Centre delivered over 1 250 podcast translations to convert English learning material into Afrikaans in support of multilingualism. The Centre also hosted academic skills webinars, produced writing skills videos, provided online reading and writing support, as well as real-time interpreting for deaf students.
Enrolments for 2021
The Rector briefed Council on the University's 2021 enrolment statistics. According to the official June statistics, SU now has 32 255 students, which is slightly higher than last year's 31 540. In terms of home language, 47,9% of students have English as their mother tongue, 34,5% Afrikaans, 5% isiXhosa, 7,8% another official South African language, and 4,9% another language. The University has 20 870 undergraduate and 10 577 postgraduate students. A total of 7 763 students are accommodated in University housing. For updated information, click on “About us" > “Statistical profile" on the SU homepage, www.sun.ac.za.
The impact of COVID-19 on schooling
Council noted with concern the COVID-19-related learning losses in the schooling system, as pointed out by ReSEP (SU's socioeconomic policy research group) in their contribution to the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (NIDS-CRAM) survey.
SU is helping to offset this with the Telematic Schools Project, a joint initiative with the Western Cape Education Department. There are 1 300 participating schools countrywide, all of whom enjoy access to quality videos, workbooks and other online content on a zero-rated website. Beneficiaries can watch and access content either from their schools or from home.
The project supports learners and teachers by providing content in 17 subjects in English and Afrikaans. Teachers also receive professional development training in terms of subject content and personal growth.
AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation
SU recently became co-host to one of five centres of excellence (CoEs) of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), namely the CoE in Science, Technology and Innovation. The aim is for the centre to help advance knowledge and science-backed innovations that would support the implementation of the African Union's Agenda 2063.
Set up under a cooperation agreement between AUDA-NEPAD, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and SU, the centre is ideally located to leverage the world-class Stellenbosch-based science and innovation ecosystem.
In its annual research output report to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), SU again submitted a record number of articles in accredited journals, this time in respect of the 2019 publication output year. The 1 596 articles represent a solid increase on the 1 501 reported for 2018.
Financial management amid COVID-19
Council took note of the severe impact of the pandemic on the financial outlook of most institutions, including SU. To date, SU's Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC) has successfully managed the impact of the pandemic through its work streams, and additional expenses have been funded from the University's Contingency Reserve.
In 2020, COVID-19-related costs and losses to the tune of R108 million were funded from the Contingency Reserve. New and ongoing costs of a further R95,8 million have been funded this year to date.
The University still manages its cash flow cautiously on a month-to-month basis, but the embargo on the use of main-budget reserves for any new activities has been partially lifted. Environments are now allowed to spend up to 5% of their current annual main-budget allocation from main-budget reserves on new ventures.
2020 annual integrated report and financial statements
Council approved SU's 2020 annual integrated report, including the University's consolidated annual financial statements, at the recommendation of the Audit and Risk Committee.
It was noted that the University had received an unqualified external audit report for its consolidated statements for the year ended 31 December 2020. Council's Audit and Risk Committee also confirmed that adequate internal financial control systems were being maintained and that there had been no material defects in the functioning of these systems during the year.
Council approved SU's going-concern status and expressed the opinion that the University was in a favourable financial position, with sufficient resources in place to continue its operations for the next 12 months.
The approved annual integrated report and financial statements will now be submitted to the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, following which an electronic copy will be uploaded to SU's website.
Discussion about language at SU
Council received reports from its Language Committee and discussed a number of matters relating to language at SU, as summarised below.
SU is revising its Language Policy (2016) this year as part of a five-year revision cycle. Council was presented with the first draft of the revised policy, along with a response report compiled from all 330 submissions, whether by individuals or interest groups, received during the first public participation process.
The revision task team is compiling a second draft of the revised Language Policy, which will take into account the inputs from the first public participation process as well as from subsequent consultations with internal groups and statutory bodies. The second draft will be made available for a second public participation process, which is to be launched towards the end of July. It will also be tabled at the scheduled meetings of the Institutional Forum, Senate and Council in September for further input.
Consult www.sun.ac.za/language for more information.
Council took note of the Deloitte report on events surrounding the use of language in some SU residences during the welcoming period in March 2021.
Deloitte has found that there was no SU management instruction to prohibit the use of Afrikaans, that residence leaders did not issue a general prohibition on the use of Afrikaans, and that house committee members settled on English during the welcoming period to promote inclusivity, and not to deprive anyone of their Afrikaans language rights.
Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, briefed Council on the undertakings the Rectorate had made following the Deloitte report. Click here for more information.
Council adopted the following motion regarding indigenous languages: “SU has taken note with concern the Department of Higher Education and Training's classification [of indigenous languages] in the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions (2020). SU supports the view that Afrikaans and the Khoe and San languages are indigenous languages. Council requests SU's management to take appropriate steps to engage with the DHET to address this issue."
Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel
This time, the responsibility centre (RC) reporting slot went to Prof Nico Koopman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel. (Click here to read his full report, and here for the PowerPoint presentation.)
Highlights from the report include the following:
- Staff health and wellbeing remain top priorities. The Rectorate adopted SU's Staff Health and Wellbeing Plan in November 2020, and implementation is under way. An institutional Committee for Staff Health and Wellbeing has been constituted, and progress is being made with the implementation of recommendations flowing from the 2019/20 survey on wellbeing, culture and climate at work.
- The Babin Day Care Centre is being supported through a new cooperation agreement, an upgrade to its physical facilities, and a loan on favourable terms to advance its sustainability.
- In the context of managing COVID-19 in the workplace, staff have various health and wellbeing resources and services at their disposal. Moreover, SU encourages staff to get vaccinated, and is working on enhancing access to vaccination sites for employees.
- SU's institutional culture continues to receive priority attention with a dual focus on qualitative and quantitative transformation. Transformation competencies of staff and students are being strengthened, and SU's Code for Employment Equity and Diversity and its Employment Equity Plan 2021–2025 are being implemented.
- Council noted both the progress and challenges in advancing universal access at the University, as well as the attempts to recruit staff with disabilities for academic positions. The University currently has 607 students and 33 staff members with disabilities.
- Institutional funding of social impact initiatives continues amid COVID-19. The US Woordfees, Woorde Open Wêrelde (WOW), SU Choir and University Museum are providing innovative programmes in a hybrid format.
- Following an external review of SU's Division of Human Resources (HR), its processes are being upgraded. This includes recruitment, performance management, career progression (especially in PASS environments), flexible working arrangements, as well as recognition, incentivisation and bonuses.
Council welcomed Ms Vuyiswa Doo as a new member appointed by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology to serve until 23 May 2025. Ms Doo, who holds an MSc in Social Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics, is an experienced HR professional who previously served as HR manager of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. She is also a former Council member of the University of Cape Town.
Fellow ministerial appointment Mr Anthony Dietrich has been reappointed, also until 23 May 2025. Moreover, Council on Monday resolved to reappoint Mr Dietrich to its Language Committee for the rest of the committee's current term, until 31 December 2022.
The Minister has also reappointed Ms Ziyanda Stuurman, for the term 13 July 2021 to 12 July 2025.
Council has reappointed Messrs Jannie Durand and Faffa Knoetze as members of the Stellenbosch Trust. Their new terms will run until 21 June 2026.
In addition, Council took leave of Mr Xola Njengele and Ms Ayesha Abou-Zeid, both elected by the Student's Representative Council (SRC). Their term will expire on 17 September 2021, shortly before the next scheduled Council meeting. Council chair Mr George Steyn thanked them for their contributions and wished them well with their studies.
Finally, Council congratulated the following members on their recent publications:
- Prof Amanda Gouws (co-editor with Olivia Ezeobi), COVID Diaries: Women's Experience of the Pandemic (Graffiti Books). Prof Gouws was also congratulated with being reappointed as distinguished professor.
- Prof Aslam Fataar (co-author with Johann Burger), Skoolleierskap en die Skep van Produktiewe Leerruimtes in Skole (“School leadership and the creation of productive school learning spaces") (African Sun Media)
- Ms Ziyanda Stuurman, Can we be safe? The future of policing in South Africa (NB Publishers)
The next meeting of Council is scheduled for 27 September 2021.