Vice-Chancellor Message – 2 September 2022

VCDear UJ Community,

Yesterday morning, I paid a short visit to our Soweto Campus, where I had a meeting with one of our executive directors. As I was leaving campus and travelling through the township, I came across a group of children splashing each other with water outside the schoolyard, welcoming Spring in the southern hemisphere. Loud cheers, punctuated by jeers, filled the air as the children exploded in joy. A few metres away, a woman was busy admonishing a boy who had apparently bunked school. “Kungani ungayanga esikoleni? Uhlala nobani ekhaya (why didn’t you go to school? Who do you live with at home?),” the woman asked, as she escorted the child to school.

Her actions left me reflecting on the adage that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We need more people in communities like her to intervene in these kinds of situations. As I explained during an interview I had with CNBC Africa this week, we need this type of accountability to enforce the value of education. This interview can be seen here. Only if we recognise and elevate the role of education as the biggest transformational agent that is going to subvert poverty to prosperity can our country reach its full potential.

The reality is that there are lot of talented people in our villages and townships but many of them end up missing out on the opportunity to reach their full potential because they have never received a formal education. What is needed is for leaders to put in place mechanisms to identify such talent and nurture it for the benefit of communities, the society and the world at large.

We need to ‘democratise’ access to education so that we may educate our people in multitudes, because it is only through an inclusive approach that we can unleash the productive forces that will make our economy competitive. After all, education is an important investment to empower our people and lift them from the morass of poverty and deprivation, inequality and gender-based violence (GBV), which are just some of the challenges impacting the global south. If we don’t deal with these widening inequalities, migration and conflict will continue to bedevil us.

As we continue with our efforts to invest in education, we should recognise that we are not going to be able to build enough brick and mortar universities to educate everyone. In fact, I read an article yesterday, which questioned whether the continent’s “overstretched universities” will be able to cope in the future, as the youth population is set to soar.

As such, we need to take advantage of the opportunities provided by technological advances, and embrace online learning as a way to get world class teachers and lecturers to educate a wider set of students without them having to travel to remote areas. That means that we should make technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) inclusive so that our people are well equipped and empowered. If we fail to do that, we are going to exacerbate our inequalities, particularly as AI can be misused to discriminate against digital minorities and destroy people.

For us to ensure that this powerful technology offers promise instead of peril, to borrow the words of Klaus Schwab, we should ask ourselves what regulatory mechanisms there are to ensure that it is used for the greater good. As a country, we also need to address challenges such as governance and improve measures to eliminate corruption. Furthermore, we should be tireless in seeking solutions for problems of food security and energy security.

On that note, I hope that the arrival of Spring, which is known as the season of rebirth and rejuvenation, will reinvigorate our staff and students in their work and studies, as we steadily approach the final lap of the 2022 Academic Year. Coincidentally, tomorrow, 3 September 2022, marks the beginning of the mid-semester recess until we reopen on Monday, 12 September 2022. We have done well to reach this far, despite uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic and an ailing and failing economy, worsened by a constrained energy supply grid. Have a pleasant weekend ahead, and take care!

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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