74 top matriculants awarded UP Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Merit Award as they #ChooseUP

Posted on March 05, 2021

Seventy-four of 2020’s top-achieving matriculants from across South Africa have chosen to pursue their academic studies at the University of Pretoria (UP), and met virtually with UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe during the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Merit Award (VCDMA) Week.

The prestigious VCDMA accolade is awarded to students chosen by a selection panel. It includes a financial component of R70 000 in first year and covering tuition fees in second and third year (with certain terms and conditions). It also includes sponsorship for the EyeBrainGym programme of LectorSA, which helps with reading and comprehension of large volumes of academic material.

The award-winning students attended a virtual VCDMA Welcome and Leadership Conference between 1 and 5 March 2021. During this conference they met the Vice-Chancellor virtually and listened to various inspirational and knowledgeable speakers from the University of Pretoria, including Professor Carolina Koornhof, Executive Director: Finance and Student Enrolment; Professor Norman Duncan, Vice-Principal: Academic; and Dr Cila Myburgh, Director: Department Enrolment and Student Administration: and many other members of UP leadership. They also listened to senior students giving their tips on how to cope at university. They were told that the academic journey is not always easy, but that they are always able to reach out for the vast array of professional support provided by the University of Pretoria.

University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe (centre) with recipients of the Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Merit Award and members of UP’s Student Representative Council.

295 students part of VCDMA programme

The conference included a three-day virtual leadership experience facilitated by Common Purpose South Africa. During this time, the students were challenged to engage with real work problems and provide solutions that can be tested and implemented.

According to the virtual event organiser, Wallace Isaacs, Deputy Director: Student Recruitment and Enrolment, “Part of the purpose of the VCDMA is to encourage students to complete their degree in the shortest time possible and to go on to postgraduate studies at UP. In this way, they are encouraged to make a significant difference in their area of study, thus encouraging them to ultimately become part of the FlyHigher@UP programme, which supports students through postgraduate studies. The greatest benefit, however, is the relationships and cross boundary networks that they form, which might come in handy in the future.”

The VCDMA programme was established in 2016 with only 13 students, and has grown significantly over the years to 295 students from different provinces and backgrounds, in South Africa and beyond.

Addressing the VCDMA recipients, Prof Kupe encouraged the recipients to maintain their already high academic standard. “You must work extremely hard to keep this award, and it is important to sustain excellence in all that you do. Work hard and excel, ask for help from your advisors and lecturers when you are uncertain of something, and complete your studies in the minimum time. Graduate so that you can enter the world of work and start making a contribution to society. Remember, you made the right choice to study at UP. The Finish Line is Yours – we want you to FLY@UP!”

A ‘competitive yet supportive environment’

Willem Kurpershoek, Mpumalanga’s top matric learner for 2020 from Hoërskool Middelburg, is one of the VCDMA awardees. Willem (whose sister is also a recipient) is pursuing a medical degree. He says he chose to study at UP because it has one of the most recognised medical faculties in South Africa. “I truly believe that UP will not only assist me in becoming a great doctor, but that the institution will allow me to grow as a human being. UP has a unique atmosphere where excellence is the main goal, and I will strive for excellence through UP.

“Academically speaking I look forward to excelling in this competitive yet supportive environment, to become the best version of myself academically and on the social front. I am looking forward to meeting new people, especially new residence brothers at House Ukuthula. Also, I look forward to social events hosted by UP – should the COVID-19 pandemic allow it.”

Unathi Baloyi, who hails from Limpopo, says she chose to study at UP because the institution has the highest pass rate within its Chartered Accounting programme. Having obtained a 92% pass rate in the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) qualifying exam, she saw it as having an environment which could ensure her growth holistically. “I look forward to meeting new people and learning new things at UP. Also, I look forward to growing and starting my career journey.”

KwaZulu-Natal born Ntando Dube says her reason to want to study at UP is that through her correspondence with the university she felt valued and appreciated, but more than anything she knew that she would feel at home at UP. “I am looking forward to excelling and learning new things,” she said.  

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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