In a remarkable achievement by the University of Johannesburg (UJ), a record number of students will graduate from the University’s 2015 class, underpinned by a new record high in its undergraduate module completion rates.
9 000 students will graduate at the University’s Autumn 2016 graduation ceremonies that begin on Monday, 7 March and end on April 13, 2016.
UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Ihron Rensburg, said that the University’s 2015 performance was more impressive given the challenges that South African universities had experienced last year.
“2015 was a watershed year for higher education, just as 2016 is proving to be. The year was marked by heightened student activism which prompted universities and the state to re-examine matters as wide-ranging as the affordability of higher education and the transformation of universities.
“It is most gratifying then to note that despite disruptions to the academic year, as well as attempts to hamper our 2015 year-end examinations, all our exams proceeded without interruption in the end.
“We are extremely proud of our academics, professional and support staff, and students — who, amidst the turmoil — demonstrated extraordinary professionalism and dedication, as a result of which we achieved a new high in our undergraduate module completion rate of 85,4%, an improvement of close to 1% on the excellent performance of 2014,” Prof Rensburg said.
He added that UJ had lots to celebrate, as its achievements since its inception – in teaching and research, in its relationships with prestigious universities globally, and in the University’s world-class programmes and facilities – were considerable.
UJ is today one of the largest residential institutions of higher learning in South Africa, having come into existence in January 2005 through the merger of the then Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), Technikon Witwatersrand (TWR) and the Soweto Campus of Vista University.
With more than 50 000 students bustling through the gates of its four campuses, UJ has become the university of choice for many working class, first generation students — producing an average of 12 300 graduates annually.
Prof Rensburg said the University’s ambition, which was grounded in carefully fashioned strategies, was to achieve global greatness for an inclusive and sustainable future.
“And greatness does not imply that UJ should be the preserve of the privileged only, but should be enjoyed by all deserving citizens. We continue to welcome students from all classes and backgrounds, to uplift those who have struggled, and to make a major contribution to creating a more just, equitable and fair South Africa.
“Our commitment to making excellent educational resources available to a diverse body of students is a proud cornerstone of the strategy of the University.
“Indeed, UJ enrols into its first year undergraduate programmes, close to 28% of students who come from the poorest schools in our nation, and about 60% of our graduates are first generation university graduates. At UJ, everything we do is infused with excellence,” Prof Rensburg said.
Such is the high regard that students have for UJ that there is now considerable pressure to increase enrolments. By the end of 2015, nearly 120 000 students had applied for the 10 500 first year undergraduate places available, implying that more than 10 applicants were received for each first-year place.
Prof Rensburg said UJ recognised that many students could not afford university fees and would thus continue to support many of them through the top-up to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to the value of R20 million, as well as through financial support to students in the so-called “missing middle” – students who do not qualify for NSFAS, but whose family income is insufficient to finance their studies through loans.
In addition, UJ would also continue to support many students through the provision of two meals-a-day to 3 500 financially needy students.
“This year, by means of the additional UJ top-up fund of R20 million, we are able to support all 10 013 NSFAS-qualifying students. Further, with the additional R20 million UJ SRC Trust Fund made available from our operating budget, we were able to assist 5000 students from the ‘missing middle’ with registration fees.
“The University is also presently engaged in an external funding drive to help fund the tuition shortfall of students of this missing middle, and thus far we have already raised R31M. All these efforts demonstrate that UJ cares,” he said.
With the University excelling well beyond expectations, the authoritative QS World University Rankings of universities in the BRICS countries – that is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – ranked UJ among the top 100 universities, placing it 67th among this economic bloc’s 6 200 universities, and fifth in South Africa.
The University’s staff and students also now collaborate with many of the world’s Top 100 universities because UJ is the only African member of the prestigious Universitas 21 Group of research-intensive universities. Remarkably, the 2015 QS Subject Ranking placed 16 of UJ’s subject offerings in the Top 300 subjects globally.
The Thompson Reuters ranking of universities, that ranks universities according to their global research profile, their ability to recruit high quality staff and students, and their ability to establish valuable international partnerships, has also placed UJ in sixth position on the African continent.