[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The University of Johannesburg (UJ) of Tomorrow
Chair of UJ Council Mr Mike Teke reflects on the five years of Prof Marwala as Vice Chancellor and what the future holds
As I sat to reflect on the five years of Professor Tshilidizi Marwala as Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and what the future holds, I was astounded by how much the institution has shifted. The last two years have been particularly challenging, to say the least. Across the world, institutions and their people alike have had to grapple with extreme circumstances because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of this cannot be underplayed. We have seen death, destruction and a sense of fear as we grapple with an invisible enemy lurking everywhere. Prof Marwala’s swift call to action in response to this is indicative of his leadership style and his ability to adapt to a paradigm shift. Prof Marwala’s response to the pandemic, and indeed our shifting society, leads me to believe that his second term will take UJ to the next level.
In 2018, as Prof Marwala was sworn in as Vice-Chancellor, he knew that there had been a solid foundation laid by his predecessors. Yet, we were also on the cusp of a monumental change in the form of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Though this seemed to be little more than rhetoric at the time, hindsight has indicated that the changes anticipated then would manifest swiftly. In anticipation of what is arguably our reality now, Prof Marwala introduced Industry 4.0, or the 4IR, to the university as part of the already existing Global Excellence and Stature (GES) Strategy which was adopted in 2013. The goal of this was to drive the developments of the 4IR, adapt to a changing context and position the University strategically within the context of the changing social, political and economic fortunes of Africa.
As countries began to adapt to the elements of the 4IR, UJ was leading and challenging conventional stereotypes. As Prof Marwala poignantly puts it, “The reality is that universities have to shift their roles towards a focus on emerging requirements of business, governments and society. The media space, the think tanks, government and many other players in the field have now realised that the tomorrow they may have been imagining, is already with us. UJ is in the thick of this.” In fact, in various reports compiled in the last two years, it has become apparent that our success, demonstrated by the completion of the academic year in 2020 and the pass-rate, is in part attributable to our years of engagement and experience with 4IR.
What then should be the agenda for his second term? What legacy will he leave behind? We often hear in management and leadership the rhetoric around soft and hard issues that have to be managed. Some of these issues are short term focused and others are long term focused. Though a lot has been achieved over the last five years, there is much more to be done. UJ will spend the next five years on various critical issues that we believe will catapult our rankings even higher and see the institution emerge as financially independent with strong leadership, a safe and dignified academic ambiance and a caring university.
Higher education institutions both nationally and internationally are setting the pace in terms of performance. There has been a burgeoning of ranking systems, but there are some notable achievements. UJ has climbed significantly in these rankings in recent years. To mention but a few of the latest rankings:
- In the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, UJ retained its position in the 601-800 band globally, for the sixth consecutive year, and is ranked joint seventh nationally.
- In the 2022 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Graduate Employability Rankings, UJ maintained its position in the 301-500 band in the world, for the fourth year running, moving up from joint fifth into fourth place nationally.
- In the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) Subject Rankings, UJ made gains in four subjects: Law, Social Sciences, Engineering, and Life Sciences.
- In the BGUR ranking, released at the end of October 2021, UJ again placed in the top 500 universities in the world, and at number 5 in South Africa.
It is common knowledge and practice in several academic institutions to be put under administration due to financial mismanagement. This cannot happen to academic institutions, as their role is critical and irreplaceable in society. UJ drives a myriad of critical success factors envisioned to guarantee financial success and financial independence one day. We are focused on watching our financial resources as close as possible and lessons from previous years have ensured that every cent that leaves the institution is accounted for as we continue to source good deals for the university through our procurement channels. Professor Marwala and the University leadership have worked hard to ensure that even when there are delays in receiving government financial support, the university can still operate unabated. We can still be better!
UJ is guided by a strong set of principles that dictates the way the university operates. Our staff and students have to be part of this agenda in order to ensure that we continue to make strides as an institution. As the last five years have demonstrated, it is about leading from the front, being exemplary and being resolute in our action. We have strong leadership and I believe this will permeate to the students we produce that they too will one day be strong citizens of the world.
A Safe and Dignified Academic Ambiance
Those who send their children to universities are effectively entrusting their safety, development and tutelage to the leadership of these institutions. Whilst our students bear a level of responsibility, they look to the universities for their safety, security and livelihoods as long as they are here. We believe that a safe university creates a good and decent learning environment, which has the added benefit of improving the dignity of the university and the brand. The creation of an environment such as this not only guides their experience but also provides an avenue for them to return as members of the convocation and be proud members of the Alumni.
A Caring University
Despite the great strides we have made, on various walks with Prof Marwala around campus, the lack of cleanliness and a failure to look after our assets have struck me. Our university environment must be spotlessly clean to project a dignified and healthy environment. The entire University population must drive this culture. Additionally, looking after our assets in the form of infrastructure, equipment and all our surroundings, creates a sense of responsibility and ownership, which serves our students as they move on to their next chapter and become active in the world of work. Our student residences need attention, and we are aware of this responsibility.
In sum, we have established a set of goals that will dictate the next five years at the University. Of course, we will continue to drive a 4IR agenda, which will dictate our approach to teaching, learning and even management. This reflective exercise has been crucial in not only understanding our successes, but identifying where the gaps lie. To lean into UJ’s tagline, this is how we continue to reimagine the future.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]