Mrs Shirley Mabusela, Chairperson of the University Council;
Members of the University Council;
Prof Peter Mbati, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University;
The University Management;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It’s an honour and a privilege to be here today.
What do you want the University of Venda be like in the year 2030? What sort of university do you want it to be? What sort of contribution do you want this university to make to South Africa in terms of training future scholars and professionals and in terms of generating new knowledge?
Today South Africa has 2.6 million graduates - or one in every twenty people. In 2030 South Africa will have over 10 million university graduates – or one in every seven people. Many of the new graduates will be in the critical skills fields, such as engineering, actuarial science, medicine, financial management, and chartered accountancy.
Today only three in ten academics at our universities have PhDs. In 2030 more than seven in ten academics at our universities will have PhDs.
Today 950,000 students are enrolled at our universities. In 2030 there will be 1.6 million.
What will be the University of Venda’s contribution be to this expansion of human capital and newknowledge?
With the advent of democracy in 1994 and a new leadership at the helm, the University of Venda embarked on a process of transformation. The university shifted its focus to science and technology, and introduced new programmes that encouraged an increase in student enrolments in the natural and applied sciences.
It is lucky to have as a feeder school, Mbilwi Secondary School, a school that sets an example to the rest of the country in maths and science. Started only in 1978, Mbilwi has been producing 100% pass rate for Matric since 1994, and has been producing over 90% Matric exemptions since 1997. This is a magnificent achievement when we consider that it was only in 2003 that the school built its first proper science laboratory.
This makes me wonder whether the fact that the Limpopo Province is the food basket of our country has anything to do with the productivity and excellence associated with the learning institutions in this rural province of ours.
In South Africa 60% of all fruit, vegetables, maize meal and cotton, and 75% of our mangoes, 65% of our papayas, 36% of our tea and 60% of tomatoes comes from this Province.
UniVen has done well in positioning itself as a rural university with a specific research profile.
All universities must develop research profiles and research capacity.
The National Plan for Higher Education (2001) rejected the structural differentiation of universities into teaching universities and research-intensive universities.
However, it accepted the principle of differentiation. What that means is that each university should set itself a mission that suits the region in which it is situated. Most universities have done this. It’s useful to remember that in the US and the UK less than 5% of universities are research-intensive, but that does not mean that all the other universities do not undertake research. They have all worked out what is good for them, what they can achieve, and they have focused clearly on those niche areas.
For example, there are universities that have built partnerships in high technology areas, and others that are concerned with sustainable rural or regional development.
The government has investedlarge sums of money in upgrading infrastructure since 2007 and proportionately more has been earmarked for those institutions that have not had a researchlegacy.
We need to review the impact of this investment and its support for innovation
All universities now take advantage of the DST’s initiatives, like the South African Research Chairs Initiative and the Centres of Competence programme, to develop their human capital and research capacity.
In fact, the DST awarded two of the recently announced 60 research chairs to this institution.
In 2008, UniVen had only one NRF-rated researcher but by 2011 this figure had increased to 13 rated researchers. This is a welcome improvement. However, your aim to have two in ten of your academic staff rated is both encouraging and ambitious.
How are you going to do this with such a poor performance in maths and science at school?
How are you going to ensure that learners emerge from our schools ready and able to grapple with university level study?
The through-put statistics of many of our universities is extremely worrying.
Several factors contribute to this mismatch between success at school and success at university.
There is the failure of schools to support learners in acquiring effective competence in the language of learning and teaching.
Many first-year students struggle to adjust to academic language demands and to cope with the high-level demand of independent research and self-directed learning. Few schools alert learners to the changed learning context of university, and for many first years university is a deep shock.
This means universities must do more to orient first time entering students to the different learning and teaching context of university.
At schools teachers devote a lot of time to pastoral care. University lectures do not regard such support as their responsibility. Students can become anonymous failures, unrecognized,unseen and deeply troubled.
Attention must be given to addressing this gap. In addition, universities need to acknowledge and provide for increasing numbers of first-generation entrants who do not have the cultural capital that could ease their entry to these institutions.
It is also a known fact that despite the triple mandate of teaching, research and community outreach many lecturers do not have any training in pedagogy and often regard students as an irritant.
Part of our response to this aspect has been to support academic development programmes and foundation programmes in disciplines that have been prioritised by institutions.
All this implies that much more must be done by schools and universities to address these gaps.
South Africa should not repeat the history of other systems that have taken decades to overcome discrimination and disadvantage.
There are other areas in which higher institutions could and should do much more.
The Constitution of South Africa sets out our aspirations for the character of our nation. It mandates us to build a non-racial, non-sexist democratic society founded on equality, human dignity, and mutual respect.
These values are absent in many of our educational institutions. Girls are often victims of sexual violence or abuse at home, in our schools and in some instances on our campuses.
Our educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities) must do more to address racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Students and staff should know that when they enter our universities and schools they enter places where principles and values exits in mission statements and in practice and that authorities will act strongly if there is a breach.
The school-university interface is not the only hurdle young people experience. Recent research points to a growing graduate unemployment problem, and suggests that more attention should be given to the links between education, employment and entrepreneurship.
Employers complain about the language competence of our graduates, and refer to a poor work ethic and to the absence of analytical skills.
Our institutions should do more to back graduates and their experience of life beyond higher education.
We also need to see increased attention to modernising our university curricula. All students should have a working knowledge of at least one of the indigenous language of South Africa. They should also learn one or more modern languages and get an introduction to African history and civilisation.
We also want to encourage graduate students to consider university careers. We need to renew the academy, and some of you should commit to teaching research and community development as your future contribution to South Africa.
I hope that some of the women present here will consider aspiring to be vice chancellors, registrars and full professors. We have to break the glass ceiling of academic leadership.
After all is said and done, you have good reason to celebrate your 30-year anniversary with pride.
Accelerating sustainable economic growth is a priority for all of us. Developed countries have prioritised research development and innovation in science and technology as part of their recovery plans from the 2008-2009 global economic crisis. Similarly, the strong developing countries such as China, India and Brazil are reaping the benefits of their investment in science, technology and innovation driven policies over the past decades. Advances in scientific and technological knowledge made possible the significant reductions of poverty and improvements in the quality of life.
I thank you.