Vice-Chancellor Message – 19 March 2021

vice chancellor message

Dear UJ Community

As we grapple with conversations around student debt, one of the key questions we must answer is why only 35 percent of our students entering universities in South Africa graduate within the prescribed period, as statistics show. Not only that, but our graduation rate is also low. The reality is that the more time students take to complete their studies, the more they accumulate debts in tuition fees. In fact, there is a direct correlation between high success rates and the reduction in student debt. This question begs another: is it perhaps not time for our government to reconsider the current funding model for institutions of higher learning, given shrinking funding budgets and shortfalls? What alternatives are there to ensure sustainability of access to higher education? What do we do as educators to ensure that our students succeed?

In this regard, I can think of the funding model of Finland. The government’s approach to access to education, based on the quest to leave no student behind, has in recent times made Finland the go-to place for education reformers around the world. As in South Africa, education in Finland is not paid for by the students – but by the government. The idea is that everybody should be able to receive education, not just the children of the rich. In short, their education is paid in taxes by everyone living in the country, each in proportion to their income.

Interestingly, the Department of Higher Education and Training and Universities South Africa (USAf), the umbrella body for universities in our country, have also expressed their views on this matter, hinting at the need to consider alternative funding models. USAf Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ahmed Bawa, made the point that, “there is much work going on within the institutions to address the challenges facing the affected students, though it must be said that the scale of student debt cannot possibly be resolved at the institutional level”.

He could have gone a step further to say that the efforts by the institutions often go unnoticed. At our University, for instance, we have several initiatives to assist many of our students who ordinarily would not have been able to access education. Added to this, we have a multilayered system that offers students support in the form of tutorials, providing additional classes and asynchronous modules, and targeted initiatives run by our various centers. For more on our initiatives to assist academically qualifying students and other matters, click here.

On a different note, last week, Times Magazine honoured a fellow South African and a lecturer at UJ, Sumayya Vally, by listing her as “The World’s Most Influential Architect Shaping the Future”. She is the founder of Counterspace – a Johannesburg-based architectural firm and was praised for her design for the 2020/2021+ Serpentine Pavilion in London. This feat made her the youngest female architect to receive this prestigious accolade. Congratulations Sumayya, well done!

Please also join me in congratulating two of our senior scholars who demonstrated academic leadership during their inaugural professorial lectures this week. Professor Kelvin Bwalya, the Vice Dean of Research and Internationalisation in the College of Business and Economic, explored the development trajectory of e-Government research and practice emanating from a decade-long research in this field. In particular, he highlighted the integration of contemporary technological orientations such as block chain and ambient spatial intelligence in the development of e-Government solutions. The theme of his address was entitled ‘Automating Public Business Processes – Towards AI-Augmented Government.’ To view Professor Bwalya’s lecture, click here.

In his address, Professor Nicholas Ngepah, from our School of Economics pointed out that the lack of inclusive growth can drive both high fragility and low ensuing growth, resulting in a vicious cycle of a highly fragile society with very low or negative economic growth when he delivered his inaugural address, ‘Socioeconomic Exclusions and State Failure: A Prospect Theoretical Perspective’. To view Professor Ngepah’s lecture, click here. Professors Bwalya and Ngepah, welcome to the UJ professoriate!

As has become a tradition at our University, we have another round of reading sessions this week. Please join the Chair of UJ Council Mr. Mike Teke today at 15:00 for his first virtual discussion on one of his recommended books for 2021, Talking to Strangers: What we should know about the people we don’t know, by Malcolm Gladwell. Click here to join in the discussion.

On a somber note, we join the world community in remembering the life of the Zulu Monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, who passed on earlier this week. We convey our condolences to the Royal Family and the Zulu nation as a whole.

Lastly, this Sunday is Human Rights Day, when we reflect on the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, where 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the pass laws. It is a reminder that although we still have a way to go, we have made great strides in the fight for our human rights. I wish you all a restful and reflective public holiday on Monday.

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: We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and physical distancing ( at all times.

Kea leboga, inkosi, baie dankie!

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg

Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.

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