University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe officially opened the university’s 2019 academic year today (Friday 8 February), and outlined his vision for the year to staff.
He placed emphasis on his Executive addressing issues facing students, including financial, accommodation and other barriers related to gaining access to the University and completing their degrees. “We are working closely with the Student Representative Council, and request all student formations to work with the SRC and management to bring issues and suggestions to us so we can work together to resolve these matters,” he said.
Prof. Tawana Kupe set out UP's strategic priorities.
He also complimented UP staff on their efforts to grow the University’s reputation internationally as a leading research-intensive university. “We produce the highest number of research outputs locally, as recorded by the Department of Higher Education and Training. We are one of the biggest contributors of qualified professionals and research students in the county.”
He continued by saying all staff, including administrators, cleaners, gardeners and academics, are contributing toward producing graduates, and all have an important role to play.
In 2019 the University will continue with its proud tradition of research and internationalisation, and some of its priorities include:
the use of institutional platforms as catalysts for trans-disciplinary research, with a focus on developing research related to opportunities provided by UP’s new Future Africa campus (to be launched 29 March), and the Javett-UP Art Centre (to be launched later this year).
an intensified focus on the recruitment, success and development of postgraduate students, in particular research master’s and doctoral students, and the establishment of a Postgraduate Centre.
forging strategic partnerships as part of UP’s internationalisation strategy, by attracting international scholars, postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students, and an increased focus on collaboration and partnerships with researchers in the rest of Africa, BRICS and selected strategic partners.
An increase in external funding for research, innovation, and postdoctoral and postgraduate scholarships.
Prof. Kupe said UP will strengthen relationships with donors, foundations, alumni and funding agencies and continue to increase third-stream income and meet performance targets for fundraising. “UP has taken a number of steps to support and accommodate students, and to ensure that academically deserving students are not turned away on the basis of financial or accommodation concerns. Furthermore, the University is committed to assisting and supporting students where needed.”
He said that although students’ focus at UP is to gain further education, “[Staff members’] duty goes beyond teaching, as we need to address [students’] social issues.” In this vein, the University will be launching an improved food programme for needy students. Food trucks will be introduced at dedicated locations to alleviate problems regarding long queues and offer affordable and healthy meals, in a bid to cater for the diverse needs of students and staff.
Prof. Kupe addressed hundreds of UP staff members on the Hatfield campus.
“One of the key priorities under the new food model will be to address student hunger. Creative new solutions for self-sustainability are being explored in consultation with prospective donors,” he said.
Prof. Kupe referred to the national rate of suicides among university students stressed by personal as well as academic issues. “We need to address this. We cannot lose young lives that have the potential to contribute to the country.” Therefore, UP’s student health, wellness and counselling functions will be streamlined and consolidated into a coherent unit catering for all aspects of student well-being.
For Prof. Kupe, “Day students are fully ours. Mentorship and support measures that are available to residence students will be extended to day students in order to enhance student success. The cluster model in terms of student life will seek to enable this.”
Furthermore, support for students with disabilities will be expanded to other campuses, according to their needs. The staffing arrangements of the Disability Unit will be given attention, he said, to much applause from staff. “We need to ensure every student here achieves the best quality of life and is able to make a contribution to society.”
Prof Kupe said all UP staff have an important role to play.
He pointed out that the SRC and its sub-structures are an integral part of the University’s governance, leadership, and student engagement culture. “The University will continue supporting student structures. Mentorship, regular interaction, and leadership training sessions geared towards enhancing the holistic student experience will continue to be improved.”
In 2019 the strategy will be to introduce and nurture activities with a high impact on student life. “This will ensure more diversity in activities towards the improvement of student success and balanced student life.
“UP wants to mould students into fully rounded citizens who not only have a degree but also social and cultural capital. Mentorship will enhance the holistic student experience. Fully rounded lives equates to improvements in students’ academic performance.”
He also wished the University a happy birthday for Sunday 10 February, when UP turns 111 years old. “Two things have remained constant at UP: excellence and change. As UP continues to evolve, things will continue to change, and it will always be with excellence as its goal. I see excellence as our beacon star.”
While the years ahead could be challenging, Prof. Kupe said, “We must never give up on ourselves or on our history. Don’t give up and run away and destroy your history and culture.”
The University resumed full academic activities on Monday 4 February.