In January 2019, the University of Pretoria welcomed Professor Tawana Kupe as its new Vice-Chancellor and Principal. After completing his Master’s Degree in English at the University of Zimbabwe and his DPhil in Media Studies at the University of Oslo in Norway, Prof. Kupe’s career took him from the University of Zimbabwe to the Universities of Rhodes and Witwatersrand before taking over the reins at the University of Pretoria. He held numerous leadership positions, from Department Head to Executive Dean, Deputy-Vice Chancellor and, until December 2018, Vice-Principal, at Wits University. This experience will be of great value as he leads the University in the next phase of its ongoing striving for excellence, relevance, impact, and financial sustainability.
Reflecting on his vision for the University, Kupe emphasises the importance of focussing on research that is relevant to society. “Our research must continue to address the issues that are most pressing to the communities in our country and on our continent. These include achieving food security and addressing climate change, unemployment and poverty, inequality and violence.”
Prof. Kupe values the emphasis the University places on community engagement, and hopes to strengthen its reach and impact. “Students come to university not only to gain an excellent qualification, but also to grow into well-rounded citizens who serve their communities. As a university, we have to be relevant and reach out to our community. We have to ensure the gap is bridged between what our Constitution says our society should look like, and what’s happening on the ground.”
South Africa’s high unemployment figures, particularly among its youth, worries him greatly. “We have to play a role in addressing this. We need to grow our enrolment figures to ensure that more applicants can be accommodated.” He says that by 2025 UP will expand enrolment to 75 000.
Prof. Kupe is UP’s first black African Vice-Chancellor, and he wants to recruit more black academics to the University. “To attract the best academics, the culture has to be welcoming. I envision a university that is more inclusive and diverse, but that remains focused on academic excellence.”
Given the increasingly important role of social media and digital platforms, Prof. Kupe’s expertise in media studies can guide the University’s academics to leverage the benefits of social media. He suggests that by using social media, more people can be reached in real time. “Academics should therefore broaden their focus from writing to an audience of fellow academics to writing for society at large.” He emphasises that information should be made more accessible but warns against altering or sensationalising facts.
The new VC believes his role is important in building relationships with various University stakeholders – be it government, business, civil society, labour unions, companies or alumni. “I want to leverage these relationships not only to ensure relevance but also to strengthen the University’s financial resources. We cannot depend solely on tuition fees and government subsidies to remain sustainable.”
He believes alumni are among the University’s most important stakeholders, and expresses his wish to reach out and connect with graduates. He’s planning a number of visits, both locally and internationally, in this regard. During 2019, he’ll meet with alumni in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, with alumni networking opportunities also in the pipeline for the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. “Alumni should stay in close contact with the University – watch your email inbox for your invitation, and RSVP timeously. I look forward to meeting you at one of our upcoming alumni engagements.”
Under Prof. Kupe’s steady leadership, the University of Pretoria will continue to grow, to respond and adjust to the ever-changing global environment. “I will ensure that the University remains responsive and relevant to the needs of our society, and continues to deliver highly accomplished graduates.”