As thousands of new students begin their higher education journeys this year, in the wake of the announcement for free higher education for students of poor and working class families, Nelson Mandela University vice-chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa stressed the institution’s commitment to their success.
Mandela University campuses were teeming with thousands of new students and their parents, who descended on the University for the annual Welcoming Ceremony, at which the newcomers were afforded an opportunity to get a feel of their new academic home and engage with their respective faculties.
Addressing the first years and their parents from the University’s Vodacom Madibaz Indoor Centre, on South Campus, on Saturday morning (27 January), Prof Muthwa reminded students of their history-making feat by choosing the only university in the world to bear the iconic former president’s name.
“This is a proud and defining event in our academic calendar when we welcome all parents, families and guardians and our first year students,” she said.
“As I look out at you today, from all walks of life and from all parts of South Africa and even beyond the borders of our country, I am inspired. You are the very first intake of students of the newly renamed Nelson Mandela University.
“That is to say, you are the first group of incoming students to join Nelson Mandela University after we officially launched our new name on 20 July last year. You indeed become students of the only university in the world that carries this iconic name.
“Today we are really making history. This year, your first year, is also the centenary year of the birth of our namesake, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. I hope you will all come to realise what a special privilege it is to be the 2018 intake of new students in this watershed year.”
About 6160 first year students, who were selected from a pool of more than 57 000 applicants, enter the University this year for studies across the seven faculties – Arts; Business and Economic Sciences; Law; Health Sciences; Science; Engineering, the Built Environment and IT (EBEIT) and Education – offered at its seven campuses spread across Port Elizabeth and George.
With the welcoming address being her first official one as Mandela University’s vice-chancellor and principal, Prof Muthwa paid homage to her predecessor Prof Derrick Swartz for the outstanding legacy he has left after a decade-long tenure.
“I wish to recognize, and thank my predecessor Dr Derrick Swartz assisted by his team, for his exemplary leadership and for leaving the University with a strong foundation on which we now have to build and grow,” she said.
These first time entering students, some of whom are the first cohort of students to benefit from the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) new Bursary Scheme begin their higher education at a time of dynamism and robustness on the back of the #FeesMustFall campaign that culminated in the recent presidential announcement on funding.
Prof Muthwa said the announcement, made when universities were in recess, had affected planning at the University and sector in general, but clarity on implementation was reached through a series of engagements internally and with relevant external stakeholders.
“This has affected the entire sector in terms of planning, but through a series of engagements we now have more clarity on how to handle this matter in a manner that enables and widens access for poor and underprivileged students, while we remain committed to the long-term sustainability of the university, and the sector,” she said.
However, Prof Muthwa adds, widening access for academically deserving students by providing financial aid is only one side of the equation.
“We are acutely aware that access needs to translate into academic success. Our wish is that every student who registers in first year, as you are doing now, will complete your chosen path of study and exit as a proud graduate of Nelson Mandela University.”
To this end, the University has put in place an extensive array of support services and facilities, which include academic support, a shuttle service between campuses and within reach of off-campus student accommodation, campus health services that include HIV testing and counselling and vibrant initiatives to stimulate and provide an inter-active living and learning environment.
The #FeesMustFall campaign foregrounded a number of challenges within the higher education sector, chief of which were funding issues that impacted on universities’ financial sustainability and the call to transform not only the student and staff population but the curriculum as well.
These are some of the main areas that Nelson Mandela University has been focused on, towards ensuring financial sustainability and developing a curriculum that is relevant to the growth and development needs of South Africa and Africa as a whole.
Prof Muthwa called on students to become active in the quest to live up to the University’s strapline Change the World, which is derived from one of Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.
“As a University we are committed to changing the world. This extends to you now as students, to be committed to change the world for the betterment of humankind. Your successful graduation will be a pinnacle milestone in our collective quest as the university community, to indeed change the world,” she said.
Since the advent of the #FeesMustFall campaign, the University has adopted mechanisms of working closely with students in collectively identifying challenges and co-creating solutions through various task teams and working groups.
The multi-stakeholder groups – which include the Financial Aid Task Team, Safety and Security Task Team and the Reintegration of Services Functions and new Business Model Reference Group (the latter including unions and service workers) – are mechanisms of bringing together all university stakeholders to surface the issues affecting the institution, and the sector in general, and jointly crafting solutions.
“As your Vice-Chancellor I strongly believe in and practice the principle of consultative leadership and co-creation,” Prof Muthwa said.
“The best and most lasting solutions to challenges are those that we, as a University community co-create and implement. We welcome, and indeed encourage, student voice in university consultative and governance processes.”
Prof Muthwa urged students to live up to the challenge of being scholars of an institution that bears the name of the one of the world’s most revered leaders, calling on them to emulate his moral values and replicate his servant leadership, his deep concern for others and his relentless fight for social justice.
“If you do this, you will all be worthy ambassadors of the University which proudly bears his name. But most of all you will leave here at the end of your studies as a well-rounded human being with a solid educational foundation, able to actively make a contribution to change the world.”
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