University of Pretoria (UP) Chancellor Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu awarded 1 380 degrees, diplomas and certificates to graduates in absentia during a virtual spring graduation ceremony held on Tuesday, 29 September.
This year’s spring graduation ceremonies, which were scheduled to take place from 29 September to 2 October, have been postponed due to the national lockdown and physical distancing protocols brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the virtual ceremony on Tuesday, students will receive a congratulatory video message from UP Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe along with an electronic version of their faculty’s graduation programme on the originally scheduled date of their graduation ceremony.
Of the 1 380 qualifications conferred by Prof Nkuhlu, 167 were doctorates and 473 were master’s degrees.
Prof Kupe told graduates, “Despite all the challenges brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic, you have succeeded, and we celebrate your achievement today. This virtual graduation ceremony is our way of providing you with an opportunity to formally graduate with all the associated rights and privileges that your degree confers on you.”
He added, “We know that you’ve worked hard and might be disappointed that you cannot walk across the stage in front of your loved ones who have supported you throughout your academic journey, but we hope that we will be able to honour and affirm all the graduates of 2020 in a physical graduation in May next year.”
As an institution, UP continues to provide high-quality education and to equip its students with the relevant skills our country needs, said Prof Kupe. “What we teach and learn, what we research and what we contribute to the economy, employment and society, has to adapt to the current environment.”
He explained that in response to the national COVID-19 lockdown, UP was able to continue its academic programme online from the beginning of May. Data from a UP survey in May 2020 showed that the vast majority of lecturers and students managed to move with confidence into online teaching and learning mode.
“Fortunately, the hybrid approach has been UP’s strategy since 2014. It is a methodology where digital, combined with contact learning and teaching, has been proven to make education more accessible and, best of all, more effective. We are constantly enhancing our technology to stay ahead of the pack.”
He said UP is grateful to be able to support its students in need by providing those without access to the internet with telephone tutoring, while assisting others with electronic devices, as well as supplying them with data so they can complete their assignments and examinations online. “The well-being of our students continues to drive us to become more innovative to ensure their success,” Prof Kupe added.
He said going forward, “the strategies we adopt for the future to address these and other crises for a better world are not built on ‘business as usual’ approaches; future societies are not built on conventional thinking, and future solutions to human and global well-being are not founded in outdated, traditional approaches. They require bold thinking and research, and agile, positive shifts. They require the research voices of our universities in Africa strongly coming to the fore with context-appropriate strategies and solutions.”
According to Prof Kupe, a positive outcome of the pandemic is the involvement of UP staff and students, at multiple levels, in finding solutions: from transdisciplinary research on how the virus infects people, to participating in international vaccine clinical trials and the production of sanitisers, face masks and face shields. “This provides us with a new opportunity for a wider and deliberate leveraging and reimagining of our universities to optimise our role in reconstructing a better future for South Africa and our continent.”
He explained that UP has to be future-orientated to see opportunities and the silver lining in the dark cloud cast not only by COVID-19, but the political, economic, social, ecological and environmental crises and disruptions of the past. “We must be able to envision a better, more sustainable world, characterised by prosperity, genuine democracy, peace, equity and equality, social justice and ethical use of all resources. All of us must aim to leave the world better than we found it.”
He told graduates, “You can join the alumni family of nearly 300 000 people anywhere in the world by downloading the UP Connect Graduway app. This will give you access to job opportunities, networking events and will keep you up to date with news from UP.”
He reminded graduates that “as a recent graduate, you can still sign up for our Ready for Work or entrepreneurship online training programmes with access to resources to help you achieve your goals in the world beyond university”.