‘#StrongerTogether is the essence of THE UP WAY’ – VC Prof Tawana Kupe on UP’s 2020 focus

Posted on January 31, 2020

Last year you were awarded an honorary doctorate from Michigan State University. Congratulations, Prof. How do you feel about this honour?

I am humbled and grateful. It is a great honour for me, but beyond me personally, also an acknowledgement that we in South Africa and across Africa are worthy of recognition by some of the top universities in the world. Recognition of this type re-emphasises that we are capable of the level of quality and excellence normally associated with the US and Europe.

It’s been a year since you became Vice-Chancellor and Principal. What have some of your biggest lessons about the institution been? And also, what have some of your highlights of this period been?

The University of Pretoria represents success in the higher education sector in South Africa and Africa. In some respects its infrastructure, leading programmes, research and top researchers, and achievements on the sporting field are comparable to some of the best in the world. UP has great potential to be the leading university in South Africa and Africa, producing highly educated, trained, skilled and rounded graduates who will become sensitive, ethical, empathetic and socially responsible individuals who make lasting contributions to society. Its full potential is yet to be realised and, when fully realised, UP will make a decisive difference to Africa’s development into a prosperous, just, equal, democratic and sustainable continent.

There are so many highlights. In the research domain, the use of 3D-printed bones to restore hearing in a patient – a first in the world – and our participation in the imaging of a black hole, to mention but two. On the infrastructure side, the launch of the Future Africa Institute and Campus and the Javett-UP Art Centre, as well as the roof-wetting in preparation for the launch this year of Phase 1 of the Engineering 4.0 complex. And jazz maestro Abdullah Ibrahim performing at the Principal’s Concert was a highlight for me, too.

"UP values diversity, we are diversifying, and we will achieve full diversity and inclusivity," says UP Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe. 

What are some of the key areas you will be focusing on this year?

Driving our agenda of internationalisation and global engagement, which comes with multiple benefits. These include, but are not limited to: the exchange of the best of intellectual ideas with universities across our continent and the globe through staff and student exchanges; participation in joint research and joint fundraising, which brings income; broadening our horizon to become a global African university which is locally responsive, globally connected, and contributes to transformative change nationally, continentally and internationally. Second, pursuing an agenda of substantive transformation, which means: demographic diversification to ensure our university is broadly representative of the South African population, with a presence of international staff and students; the co-creation of inclusive institutional cultures, advocacy campaigns against all forms of gender-based violence, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and for disability rights; improving the quality of teaching and learning, research and social engagement; financially sustainability; and becoming a sporting  university powerhouse in Africa that is competitive globally.

A number of UP students face issues related to food insecurity. While this issue is not unique to UP, it remains a hindrance to students’ progress. What is the University doing to help these students?

A hungry or food-insecure student cannot concentrate on their studies and live a healthy life. We will be launching a multi-pronged approach to achieve zero hunger, which will include contributing some of the University’s resources to feed students who face food insecurity; working with multiple partners to add to our food banks and supplies of food; and investigating urban farming on our land, which will involve students in food production. At the same time we also want to ensure that students eat healthy food that does not only address hunger but aids good nutrition practices.

What exciting projects will be launched at UP in 2020?

The Engineering 4.0 Complex Phase 1, which is about smart and sustainable cities; smart transportation; transdisciplinary research that matters to mobility in Africa, which has a rapidly urbanising environment; improving testing and training; and a national reference library for transport.

In your inauguration speech you mentioned that universities have a responsibility to chart the path towards 'sustained, sustainable and inclusive development'. How do you see all of us at UP contributing toward the achievement of this goal in 2020?

Largely through creating knowledge in our research endeavours which can be translated into policy, used for problem-solving and addressing real-life problems. Second, through training excellent graduates who have the talents required to address skills needs in the economic and business sectors, government and civil society. Our older and new innovation platforms – Future Africa, the Javett-UP Art Centre, the Engineering 4.0 complex and Innovation Africa@UP will be critical to producing knowledge that contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the National Development Plan and Agenda 2063 – the Africa we want and, indeed, beyond what is in the national, UN and continental plans.

UP still struggles with being seen as an institution that has not fully transformed. What actions are you taking towards ensuring that the country, continent and world know that UP is firmly committed to its vision of being a transformed and cosmopolitan institution?

UP values diversity, we are diversifying, and we will achieve full diversity and inclusivity. So in 2020 we will redouble our efforts by pursuing an agenda of substantive transformation as outlined above.

What is your message to staff in 2020?

#StrongerTogether is the essence of THE UP WAY. Working together, we can co-create an institution where pooling all our strengths enables us to have the best teaching, learning, research and social engagement environments; environments that enable us to make significant and decisive transformative contributions to our society, our continent and the world which we are an integral part of. 

- Author Masego Panyane

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