Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
A day in the life: René Robbertze
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Anél Lewis]
Published: 09/05/2023

We marked Worker's Day with a series of articles during May to honour the valuable contribution of staff to Stellenbosch University (SU).

Precision is a key component of stats guru René Robbertze's workday and she spends much of her time building computer dashboards and navigating spreadsheets to analyse data as SU's Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) officer. So, it should come as no surprise that when she has some down time, you will find this Comrades runner outdoors, hitting the road.

Explain your role at SU?

My role combines responsibilities as a HEMIS officer, submitting student data to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for subsidy purposes, as well as other statutory reporting on student and staff data. I assist with the analysis and reporting of university data in the form of dashboards in Excel and Power BI for top and middle management, and I also work with rankings and handle information requests.

What does a typical day at work look like?

It depends on the time of the year. April/May is dedicated to the second HEMIS student submission to the DHET and I balance my time between the HEMIS submission process, attending meetings related to the HEMIS processes and other projects that I am working on, such as handling information requests, and scanning the internet for university rankings releases. We need to track our placement on world university rankings and follow up where necessary.

I also work on other projects, for example, building new dashboards for top management and/or refining or updating existing dashboards in Power BI.

The HEMIS process consists of running programmes that audit student data, checking for incomplete and incorrect data, communicating the issues with the data curators, and starting the process over again until there are no more anomalies. Precision in our environments is of utmost importance and external auditors audit the data that we submit to the DHET every year.

How did your education or past experiences prepare you for this role? 

I started my career at SU in 2010 as a junior lecturer in the Department of Information Sciences after completing my undergraduate studies and honours degrees in socio-informatics.

I always keep my eyes open for opportunities to learn new skills and have attended many courses over the years. Advanced training in MS Excel and MS Word are some of the valuable courses that I completed, and which empowered me to develop workshops that I have presented to postgraduate students and staff over the past 10 years.

I received my master's degree while working in the Division for Information Governance (IG) (previously Institutional Research and Planning and now Strategic Initiatives & Information Governance). In the process, I developed a score card for the University together with my supervisor, Prof Ian Cloete, which measures how well SU is doing on reaching its goals and targets set out in its strategic plan. The Rectorate accepted The Effectiveness Score Card in 2020 as a novel management tool for SU.

What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU?

No two days are ever the same at the office; there is always a new challenge or opportunity to explore. HEMIS and the projects that I work on allow for me to connect with staff and students across the campuses, from department level to deans, faculty managers, divisions, and even the Rectorate. I also get the opportunity to connect with HEMIS staff from other universities on a national level and with representatives from the DHET.

As a ranking specialist, I have had the opportunity to travel internationally, affording exposure to other approaches. This has allowed new insight into my area of specialisation. SU has a great reputation and wherever I go, I am immensely proud to be part of this esteemed organisation.

Tell us something exciting or interesting about yourself that few people would expect?

I'm not a natural runner, but I do love the outdoors and a challenge. I got the opportunity to participate in the Comrades Marathon in 2005 and completed the Ultimate Human Race, all 89,9 km, within the cut-off time. This year, after 18 years, I have decided to start running again and I enjoy every moment of it. 

​Photographer: Stefan Els