UP’s Institutional Transformation Committee hosts webinar on institutional culture

Posted on June 11, 2021

UP academics recently asked the question “What needs to change?” during an online panel discussion about the University’s institutional culture.

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Institutional Transformation Committee (ITC) recently hosted a webinar to address where improvements can be made to the University’s institutional culture. Organised by Dr Matete Madiba, Chairperson of the ITC, the theme of the webinar was ‘How is UP doing in transforming its institutional culture?’.

“Institutional culture” is a key term in the lexicon of higher education debates, especially when addressing issues of transformation. The most prominent focus has been on demographic transformation: diversifying the staff complement and the student cohort to comply with and hopefully exceed employment equity targets. There is also curriculum transformation to consider: transforming the discourse and epistemology that shape teaching and research at universities. Institutional culture is what connects these two transformation priorities, and is what will make them durable and meaningful as projects of institutional change.

The discussion was moderated by Professor Joel Modiri of UP Law, and the panel comprised of six scholars from various fields: Prof Saloshna Vandeyar, Director of the Centre for Diversity and Social Cohesion and full professor in the Department of Humanities Education; Dr Nisa Palekar of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies; Prof Gerald Ouma, Senior Director of Institutional Planning; Prof Derick de Jongh, Director of the Albert Luthuli Leadership Institute; Thuto Mashile of the Student Representative Council for Transformation; and Prof Barend Erasmus, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

“Institutional culture is a key element of achieving change or transformation,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Prof Tawana Kupe, adding that achieving diversity is not only about race, gender, age or socioeconomic backgrounds. “Diversity is meaningless if there isn’t inclusivity, which is a key element of institutional culture. When it comes to institutional transformation, a university has a double responsibility: for itself as an organisation and for society.”

“UP’s policies and transformation plan recognise that the University’s vision cannot be achieved unless we have an enabling culture that provides diverse staff and students with sufficient opportunities to positively contribute to decisions,” said Dr Palekar during the discussion. “Transformation should constantly evolve, and itself implies a degree of antagonism and tension of what was or used to be and what needs to be.”

Prof De Jongh agreed with Dr Palekar, and added that transforming institutional culture is a process that can’t happen overnight. “It takes hard work, difficult conversations and lots of disagreement and agreements among staff, students and stakeholders to get to a point of agreement in order to co-create a culture we all want. There are three phases to acknowledge: we must recognise that we have a past that comes with certain complexities and that we have historical realities that should be shared and unpacked; we have to validate that we have come to believe certain things over this period and that the ideologies we support are the results of many of these historical events; and we have to be interested in what we are becoming.” 

Mashile offered a student’s perspective during the debate. She said that true change comes about only when the culture of a society is transformed. “For me, institutional culture comprises the norms, believes and practices of a university in terms of how I perceive and interpret them. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the institutional culture is transformed to be more accommodating and inclusive. The common areas that students look for transformation in is teaching, learning, student life and residence culture. Teaching and learning are all about decolonising and transforming the curriculum to be more relatable and relevant.”

Prof Vandeyar noted that integration is needed to move towards institutional culture because it interrogates the quality of contexts, who has a sense of belonging in the institutional space and who feels alienated. “We need to acknowledge and recognise the diversity in front of us and use it as an asset.”

Prof Erasmus pointed out that it is functionally impossible for a transformation committee to effect any meaningful transformation by itself. He stressed that eight or 10 people will not change the culture, diversity or attitude of all students and staff, and that everyone should take part when it comes to institutional transformation. 

“There is also the ownership of the agenda of changing the institutional culture to consider,” said Prof Kupe. “If ownership is narrow, change will not be possible, because universities benefit most from diverse perspectives.” He added that transformation is not just about demographics. “It also has to fit into and fit our teaching, learning and research agendas.”

Author: Xolani Mathibela

- Author Xolani Mathibela

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences