Welcome Remarks by the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Ihron Rensburg on Occasion of the 2014 Academic Opening and First Years’ Welcome of the University of Johannesburg.
Sanibonani, Thobela, Goeiemore, Good morning!
Director of Ceremonies, Prof Scherzinger
Members of the Council of the University of Johannesburg (…Dr Lushaba and Mr Manganye)
Deputy Vice-Chancellors and the Registrar
Executive Deans and Directors
Members of Senate and fellow Academics
Professional and Support Staff
Alumni of the University of Johannesburg
Members of the Student Advisory Council
Friends and Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
Distinguished Guests, and a most special welcome to our distinguished
Parents and Students
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 2014 academic opening. This is an important event in the University’s annual calendar. It is an opportunity for the University community to welcome new first year and all our returning students. We also use this time to wish our students every success in their studies in the year ahead. It is also an opportunity for us to review our progress and to look into the future, complete with its challenges and opportunities.
I am also deeply humbled and honoured to stand before you today as we inaugurate the 10th academic year of the University of Johannesburg – an international university of choice, (which is) anchored in Africa and (which is) dynamically shaping the future.
As we begin the academic year 2014, the higher education sector welcomes two brand new universities – one in Mpumalanga and another in the Northern Cape. The country has also recently received the good news of the best matric results ever in the 20-year history of our young and bustling democracy.
Also, earlier this month, the Minister of Higher Education & Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, launched the White Paper on Post-School Education and Training. The White Paper outlines, among other things, government’s intention to considerably expand and consolidate the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges from its current enrolment of 600,000 to 4 million by 2030. Should this objective, with all of our support and efforts be accomplished, and it is complemented by improving quality and the articulation of programmes with the labour market. Then our country will be in a vastly different and socio-economically most advantageous position in years to come, resulting in far higher employment, increased personal, family and national incomes, and a vastly improved human resources profile that will also see real and direct domestic and foreign investment flows reaching their true potential. Growth for the university system is set to grow more modesty over this period from 950,000 to 1,6 million students, resulting in a far more appropriate balance between enrolment in the college sector (4 million) and the university sector (1,6 million).
Accessible Excellence with Global Excellence and Stature
Born out of a merger in 2005 of our three legacy institutions – Technikon Witwatersrand founded in 1921, Rand Afrikaanse Universiteit founded in 1968 and Vista University founded in 1979 – the University of Johannesburg, your university – and I use the word ‘YOUR’ intentionally – has established a reputation of accessible excellence. For five years in succession, (potential) university heading students have, in a scientific survey, voted UJ as the second coolest and preferred university brand in South Africa.
As well as being an institution priding itself for its accessible excellence, after only 9 years, UJ has also established itself as an institution of global excellence and world class stature. Last year, the authoritative QS World University Rankings ranked UJ among the top 4% of universities in the world – placing 600-650 of 16,500 universities – and among the top 1% of universities in the BRICS countries, that is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – placing 61st among this economic bloc’s 6,200 universities.
The URAP rankings that focus solely on research output, research impact and global research collaboration, place UJ among the top ten universities in Africa. It is noteworthy that in both the QS rankings, which focus on academic and employer reputation, research output and impact, teaching, staff with PhDs and the level of internationalisation, UJ obtained particularly high scores in the categories of academic and employer reputation, and international faculty.
UJ is also the only African university admitted to the highly respected consortium of 28 research-intensive universities in the world – Universitas 21. All of these accomplishments are the result of the considerable efforts of our staff and students, heads of departments, senior and executive leadership, our Council, and our Alumni, and I am truly grateful to all.
We boast world-class, internationally recognised academic programmes based on curricula informed by cutting-edge developments in both undergraduate and postgraduate education. More importantly, our programmes are designed to prepare students for the world of work and for global citizenship, and we have established a solid reputation of excellence in especially our several flagship programmes. Taking into account the choices of our Orange Carpet First Year Students – those with an APS score equal to and greater than 40 points – then we should consider these flagships to be: Accounting (74 of 161), Electrical and Electronic/Mechanical/Civil/Mining Engineering (29), LLB/BA Law/BCom Law (9), Mathematics/Applied Mathematics (8), IT/Computer Sciences (6), Human Physiology (5), Optometry (3), Finance (3), Psychology (2) and Teacher Education (2).
Now, to make our teaching, research and innovation goals a reality, we have over the past 8 years invested in excess of R2 billion in the upgrading and expansion of living and learning facilities on all four our campuses, viz., Doornfontein, Bunting Road, Soweto and Kingsway, and to create a safe and secure world-class learning and research environment for both staff and students.
This work continues, especially that of improving the on- and off-campus safety of our students, staff and visitors, and this year we are introducing off-campus safe corridors and a significantly enhanced camera monitoring system.
Regarding the development of our Doornfontein campus, while excellent progress has been made to turn this campus into a world class engineering and health sciences campus, this work will now only be completed at the end of February. This is due to various factors, most notably the fatal construction related accident which caused a shutdown of construction during mid-December last year. This is most regrettable, and as a result, in limited instances, the university will, for these purposes, temporarily make use of the excellent facilities at Ellis Park, and relevant students and staff will be transported to these facilities during this short period. I extend my sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused.
Our undergraduate student success rate now stands at 83.2% and the overall annual graduate output is now in excess of 11,400 students. Of these graduates, the number of Master graduates was 430, and the doctoral graduates, 109. Importantly, 95% of our students obtain employment within 12 months of graduation.
Our vision is to be nationally responsive in a manner that only we can be, while we pursue global excellence and stature, again in a manner that only we can. In this regard, among our country’s six leading universities, only UJ provides access, with success, to almost 2,000 first year students who come from our poorest communities, providing them, where needed, with top-up NSFAS funding, bursaries and two healthy meals a day: a total investment in our shared future in excess of R50 million last year.
Our work is far from finished. For the next ten years, we have set six strategic goals for ourselves to execute so that we can further elevate our global academic reputation and stature as well as make our unique contribution to South Africa and the world. These goals are:
- Global Excellence in Research and Innovation
- Global Excellence in Teaching and Learning
- An International Profile Fit for Global Excellence and Stature
- An Outstanding Student Experience
- Active Global Reputation Management, and
- An Institution and People fit for Global Excellence and Stature.
In this regard, the university intends investing more than R600 million over the next seven years in the following critical global challenges of intellectual enquiry:
- Sustainability and the Megacity
- African Political Thought and Conversation
- Earth Sciences
- Process Automation, and
- Water and Nanotechnology.
At the apex of the deepening and elevation of our academic reputation and stature, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Society will be launched later this year, which is a joint Africa-Asia intellectual project, with our partner, the Nanyang Technological Institute of Singapore.
These and other efforts; such as the modernisation of our libraries; and teaching and learning through the use of modern technologies including the use of the tablet/notebook. We are extremely grateful to Apple for its generous contribution to this work, and for establishing on ITunes SA the first Africa university teaching and learning portal which will result in a significantly enhanced academic experience for our under and post-graduate students and staff. It will also enable a significantly enhanced interaction and collaboration with leading scholars and students from across the world.
Privilege and Opportunity
As a student at UJ, you are part of close to a million young people in South Africa who are enrolled in university education. In a country of more than 50 million people, you are part of, arguably, the most privileged million. To appreciate the nature of your privilege and opportunity, consider that in its last census, Statistics SA showed that there are 3.4 million young South Africans, aged 15 to 24, who are not in employment, not in education and not in training – roughly 32.9% of persons in your age group.
Having worked your way up to this juncture in your life, you must now proceed to prove yourself by making a resounding success of your studies. This will not be easy, however with your efforts and our support, I can assure you that you will succeed beyond your expectations. Consider simply the example of your university, and its progress over the last 8 years: considerable effort with many lows along the way has resulted in it becoming not only a leader in SA but it is now counted among the very best universities on our planet.
In becoming part of UJ’s just under 49,000 students – 2,500 of whom are international and 7,300 postgraduate – you have not only made a wise choice about your study destination. You are also positioning yourselves for future leadership because UJ graduates are making their mark as leaders in many fields in South Africa, on our continent and further afield.
You now have the responsibility to match the global excellence of UJ with your own excellence. I have no doubt that each and every one of you has what it takes to succeed at UJ, and perhaps even more importantly, to succeed in life.
Word to New Students and Parents
Let me now turn my attention specifically to our new university students with a focus on the academic year that lies ahead.
The UJ values are anchored around the themes of: imagination, conversation, regeneration and ethical foundation.
Imagination: At UJ we urge you to think independently; to develop a cosmopolitan identity rather than an insular one; to be ambitious and to set high standards and targets for yourself; to be entrepreneurial in your approach to life; in short, for you to be imaginative.
Conversation: The challenge at UJ is one of learning together; to make wise decisions collectively; to engage meaningfully with one another; to display mutual respect and to lead consultatively.
Regeneration: Our values also encourage us to foreground sustainability; to seek constant renewal of ideas and resources alike; constantly innovating for the common good, making positive change, and taking advantage of overlooked opportunities.
Ethical Foundation: Our values encourage us to treasure academic freedom; to pursue knowledge responsibly and ethically; to face challenges with courage; to earn trust; to act responsibly; and to be fair, consistent, accountable and transparent.
The UJ Student Charter is based on these four foundational values. I encourage all our students to familiarise yourselves with the UJ Student Charter and to ensure that its principles are actively internalised.
I also urge you to work with your faculties, departments and the advancement division in volunteering to give of your time and energy in service to our communities. It is the best manner in which you can give back to your society that is now making this considerable investment in helping you achieve your and your family’s amazing dreams.
At UJ, you will be brought into contact with the best lecturers and researchers from South Africa and beyond. We engage distinguished professors, excellent postdoctoral fellows, well qualified senior tutors and dynamic assistant lecturers so that you can learn, be tutored, challenged and go well beyond your dreams. You will encounter fellow students from all over the country, the continent and the world, and you will make bonds to last you a lifetime.
During your stay at UJ, you will be given opportunities for periodic study abroad with our partner institutions. Be on the look-out for these opportunities and take full advantage. Our new Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Society will offer you opportunities to observe and listen to the best minds in the world, including Nobel laureates, as they tackle some of the grand challenges facing humanity at this time.
You will be immersed in a learning paradigm that harnesses technology for teaching, research and innovation. All first years at UJ will, for the first time, have tablets/notebooks as an essential tool for learning and research. Each of our four campuses will offer you a world-class modern library. Our student residences and day houses will make you part of a dynamic living and learning community of students.
Please take advantage of the First Year Experience Programme (FYE). With the emphasis on students mentoring fellow students, it is an initiative that is designed to strengthen your academic competencies. This is a programme that will help you ‘hit the ground running’.
The first semester is intense and demanding. Pace yourself and knuckle down to your studies from the very beginning. If, along the way, you stumble and falter, do not despair and do not linger: pick yourself up and quickly get back to work. Take full advantage of the academic and psychological support services on offer at UJ. As well as the outstanding sport and cultural facilities and opportunities.
Let no one and nothing stand in your way of achieving your dreams.
Let no one intimidate you into losing the sparkle … the light that defines you! Always keep in focus your goals and the legacy you will leave behind.
Remember always that UJ is YOUR University. Take your place with pride and aim to do us all proud. We have full confidence in you.
To your parents, we say: thank you for entrusting the future of your child with us. We will not disappoint you. And, please, do make time to support, encourage and love them as they enter this new life changing period of their precious lives.