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Change the world


As a university that carries Mandela’s name our focus is on our identity as a university of continental and global repute, pioneering knowledge generation and reimagining engagement and transformation.

The Mandela in Nelson Mandela University refers not only to Mandela the person but to the social construct and associated scholarly insight, with critical analysis and deconstructive reading of what this means, as we discussed during the stimulating Dalibhunga Colloquium hosted by CriSHET between 6 and 8 March this year.

Across all knowledge fields, our university should be known worldwide for our scholarly formulation of the Mandela legacy, including how to build bridges between the natural sciences and the humanities, with pragmatic import and real-life programmes that make a difference in the lives of ordinary people.

The establishment of a Transdisciplinary Institute for Mandela Studies (TIMS) will play an important role in this, and in achieving our pan-African and internationalisation goals. Along with my team and colleagues, we see TIMS as the principle articulation of my intellectual project as Vice-Chancellor.

It is about creating anew the university’s social justice intentions, and making transformational and transformative leadership a standard within the university. The social figure of Mandela, his spirit and his legacy, tells us that the future of democratic institutions and their promises of a more equal society are not lost, and we must respond and rethink, in deep ways, the purposes of the university in promoting the public good.

At the start of the 2019 academic year we ontinued our efforts to widen student access, which is essential to creating a more equal society. As with the rest of the higher education sector, this has been marked by the challenges our students experienced in respect of registration, financial aid and accommodation.

In 2018, we conducted a comprehensive review of our undergraduate student access and enrolment. As a result, we are attending to various areas for improvement, but much work remains to be done.

In support of our aspirations to increase our postgraduate enrolments, Council allocated R60 million for postgraduate bursaries and scholarships for 2019 – the highest amount ever.

However, additional resources need to be mobilised to support academically deserving, financially needy postgraduate diploma and honours students who do not qualify for national financial aid, and this will form part of our resource mobilisation strategy over the next few years. We will be approaching funders, including the banks, the private sector, SETAs and industry, who have  traditionally funded undergraduate studies, to ask them to extend, or, where appropriate, to redirect some of their funding to supporting postgraduate studies and the “missing middle”.

In an effort to promote a more seamless experience for our postgraduate applicants, this year we will be streamlining the postgraduate admissions system. We have asked our DVC Research and Engagement to develop a postgraduate studies strategy to increase our postgraduate enrolments, improve our research outputs and develop the next generation of demographically diverse academics.

During my listening campaign last year, staff members raised the vexing issue of weaknesses in our  cumbersome HR recruitment and selection processes. We have put improvement plans in place that are starting to show results, particularly in the faculties where it is critical that we improve our turnaround times in filling vacancies.

Another key issue is the normalisation of labour relations in our institution. The integration of more than 800 staff members from across all our campuses was not an easy process. It called for the  renegotiation of conditions of service, which put a strain on the relationship between organised labour and management. Our two unions have now signed the recognition agreement and the new conditions of service, so we are on the right path for management and staff to work together for the future of our university.

The wellness of all our staff is a priority and we are exploring ways to improve staff morale. To this end, we have lifted the financial austerity measures we had put in place and we have allocated significant additional funding to the academic project to begin addressing high student to staff ratios.

We need to continue promoting a culture of engagement at all levels to build resilience and cultivate an inclusive, affirming working environment that is conducive to staff fulfilling their highest potential.

We have started our university-wide consultations for the organisational redesign process which aims to assess whether our structures, systems and processes are fit for purpose and aligned with our forward-looking strategic intentions. We need to rethink our institutional operating model in fundamental ways to improve our agility and responsiveness to rapidly evolving technological advancements and volatility in the higher education sector. We are hoping to report back to Council in June with our consolidated organisational redesign proposals and to start the implementation of our revised structures towards the end of 2019.

We are a values-driven university but it is not sufficient to simply say this; it should find daily expression in what we teach and how we teach, and in our relations with our students and the communities with whom we interact.

Overall, we are feeling buoyant and upbeat, and there is generally a clear understanding of the direction we are taking as an institution in service to society. This is coming alive in all our university spaces and we are proud of this.

Professor Sibongile Muthwa 

This piece is from the latest edition of the "VC's Voice" - the full publication is downloadable from this page.

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