Dear UJ Community
This week ushered in Spring, but there has not been a let-up in the wintry conditions, with persistent cold weather accompanied by sporadic showers of rain. As if this was not enough, the spectra of load shedding also returned, and was – as if with some vengeance – ramped up to stage 4 from stage 2. This, perhaps, served as a stark reminder that this year has possibly been the bleakest ever experienced, mainly because of the national lockdowns and ensuing restrictions on businesses across the globe necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the inclement weather might have spoiled the spectacular displays of the bloom of flowers and trees and prevented the usual “spring has sprung” hashtag from trending, I hope it did not dampen your spirits.
With the new season, we welcomed back more students on our University campuses and residences, in accordance with the 66% limit, as per the department regulations gazetted on 8 June 2020. This follows the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande last week, for a further return of students to campus in the shift from National Lockdown Level 3 to Level 2. Our Reintegration Plan for returning staff and students has been excellent, and I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to our University COVID-19 Coordination Committee (UJCCC) – led by our Chief Operations Officer, Prof Andre Swart, and our Registrar, Prof Kinta Burger – for their outstanding work. You may familiarise yourselves with the screening areas at the respective access points here: APB, APK, DFC, and SWC. Have your staff or student card and permit (or ID card/book or driver’s licence) with you at all times when accessing campus.
The new season also ushers in a new era for our student leadership, with the race to elect the new Student Representative Councils (SRCs) having started in earnest across many higher education institutions in the country. Usually, around this period, our campuses are a hub of activity, characterised by colourful and vibrant scenes as the various student organisations and independent candidates compete for votes. However, because of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, our students have had to turn to virtual campaigns in the 4IR style that defines the culture of our University. I am pleased that we have just concluded our first online nominations, with an overwhelming response from students. The voting will be held online from the 7th to the 9th of October 2020.
As we speak of virtual elections, admittedly many aspects of life have become more convenient online, with easy access to information and help at the click of a button. You may remember that earlier this year during registration, UJ implemented a chatbot to assist prospective students with standard answers to general enquiries or questions related to applications and registrations. This chatbot has now been enhanced, with the launch of the intelligent digital assistant, a chatbot called MoUJi, which is an integration of our student administration systems to offer applicants and students a new self-service option for applications.
MoUJi is UJ’s digital assistant, which simulates human conversation, using concepts of AI. It is designed to assist prospective and registered students, alumni and guests who may be interested in our programmes and other enquiries. It can provide applicants with personal details and assist them in amending contact details, view academic and residence admission statuses, as well as access class timetables, examination results and financial statements. All a student needs to have is a student number and password or pin to access the new self-service feature, found on the home page of the University’s website.
Our University continues to host important events on various topics that demonstrate our tenacity in influencing public debate on current affairs and shaping society. On Thursday, 27 August 2020, our Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), in collaboration with Jacana publishers, held an online book discussion on the recently published edited volume, From Ivory Towers to Ebony Towers: Transforming Humanities Curricula in South Africa, Africa and African-American Studies. This discussion was well attended, with more than 240 people from around the globe joining online, which resulted in a lively debate on crucial transformation challenges in the higher education sector. Prof Kammila Naidoo, Executive Dean of our Faculty of Humanities, chaired the meeting. The keynote speakers included Prof Shireen Motala, Senior Director: UJ Postgraduate School and Co-Editor of the book (with Dr Oluwaseun Tella) and Ms Sandile Ndelu, Advocacy Coordinator: Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits, as well as Prof Adekeye Adebajo, Director: IPATC. For those who wish to watch how the discussion unfolded, please click here.
The good news this week is that the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (INSETA) has contributed a further R7,8 million worth of bursaries to the benefit of UJ students who are studying towards scarce and critical careers in the insurance industry. This is INSETA’s fourth grant made available to our students this year, with a total of R18,8 million. The first three contributions were successfully implemented in collaboration with our University’s Finance Division – with thanks to Ms Nolwazi Mamorare, our Chief Financial Officer of the year and her team. Congratulations also go to the Department of Finance and Investment and Marno Booyens for leading the grant application.
Please also join me in congratulating Dr Kingsley Ogudo, for being elected as Secretary of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) Entrepreneurship and Innovation chapter (EIC). He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technology. The EIC is one of the Chapters of SAIEE whose mandate and vision are to provide and promote the best knowledge-driven innovation and entrepreneurial support for sustainable, rapid economic growth for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs), cognisant of previously disadvantaged groups and the youth. Dr Ogudo’s position as a member of the executive will help contribute to the development of local industry and job creation using multifaceted approaches, i.e. the promotion of joint ventures and networking platforms nationally and internationally. He will also be contributing to the reduction of imported goods by promoting the use of locally made products but increasing local exports. Dr Ogudo, congratulations – thank you for flying the UJ flag with pride!
Earlier this week, UJ sent out a circular providing feedback on the VC Campus Engagement Session with staff at the Soweto Campus. The sessions are organised to help bring about a close interaction between management and employees on current and pertinent University matters. The upcoming engagement sessions for other campuses will all take place this month as follows: Doornfontein Campus, Tuesday, 8 September 2020; Auckland Park Bunting Road Campus, Friday, 11 September 2020; and the Auckland Park Kingsway Campus, Friday, 18 September 2020, all starting at noon. The sessions have gone back to campus-specific target groups because of challenges of access to online connectivity. However, they will still be available on the online platform to allow other staff members to join in.
Our University annually celebrates Secretaries Day in September in honour and acknowledgement of the excellent work of our colleagues in various departments. As most of the University events were either cancelled or are taking place online, we will not have this event for our secretaries. However, I would like to extend my appreciation and sincere gratitude to all the University secretaries and personal assistants for the excellent work they continue to do even during the lockdown period. Lastly, today on the Mail&Guardian I co-authored an opinion piece with the Chairman of the CSIR Board Professor Thokozani Majozi on how innovation can reduce inequality and the need to invest in Research and Development.
Please continue to visit our COVID-19 portal on the UJ website for valuable information, including health and wellbeing. Only information issued via the University’s official communication platforms is legitimate. This information may be verified by visiting: https://www.uj.ac.za/news/corona-virus//. We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and social distancing (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public) at all times.
Enjoy your weekend,
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal,
University of Johannesburg