Dear UJ Community,
Recently, a relative paid an unannounced visit to my home, which is something of a surprise in this age and time (“old habits die hard,” indeed). She expressed excitement at government’s announcement that children between the ages of 12 and 17 may now be vaccinated. She said her teenage daughter had recently been admitted into one of the leading universities in the United States of America (USA), and the fact that she had not been vaccinated threatened to scupper her dream to study at a prestigious university abroad. “Tshilidzi, you don’t know what this means; it’s the best news I could have asked for,” she said, her voice quivering with excitement.
Many universities and other institutions of higher learning in the USA, the United Kingdom, East Europe, Asia and Australia are now requiring that staff and students be vaccinated in order to access campuses. Harvard University has, for instance, decided that a high vaccination rate in its community, combined with masking and regular viral testing, is a critical component of the university’s multi-layered health and safety measures to protect its community and a return to in-person teaching and learning, research, and other activities as much as possible.
At our University, we have always been guided by the principles of transparency, openness and accountability in our approach to this matter. This is demonstrated by our extensive communication since the COVID-19 pandemic struck early last year. It is these principles that have been the cornerstone of our success in transitioning to a remote, online teaching and learning institution while maintaining a safe environment.
As communicated earlier this week, the University is now having to identify possible measures to ensure that our students have optimal access to learning, research, laboratory and clinical work. This is crucial if we are to sustain our Business Continuity Plan, given the persistence of what has been a devastating pandemic. The latest pronouncement by the Premier of Gauteng Mr. David Makhura that a COVID-19 fourth wave is expected to hit the province as early as next month is a matter of grave concern.
It is common cause that being vaccinated does not only protect the University community, but also advances the public good. To this end, the University Management has resolved to develop a proposed UJ COVID-19 vaccination plan. This plan is guided by various pieces of legislation, and in particular the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
We are currently in consultation with staff and students to get their opinion on this matter. Additionally, we have started conducting surveys for staff and students to assess their thoughts, opinions and feelings on the matter. Once this consultation process has been finalised, the outcome will be shared with staff, students, senior managers as well as organised labour and other stakeholders for comment. I urge all of you to complete the survey in order for us to make an informed decision. To our staff members, please click here. Students should use the link provided in the communiqué that was issued to them earlier this week.
On a different note, this week UJ was ranked amongst the top universities in the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) Emerging Economics University Rankings. UJ placed at the 117th position in the 2022 edition, remaining steady amongst the South African universities ranked. Although UJ dropped one spot from 116 in the 2021 edition, we increased in the overall score by 1.3 points from 34.0 to 35.3. Given that more universities are ranked each year, this is a noteworthy achievement. It emphasizes that UJ is one of the top research-intensive universities in around 50 countries and regions classified as emerging economies or frontier economies. These results are a testimony to UJ’s growing international reputation! I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who has made UJ such a great and competitive institution.
Still on research, I am pleased to announce that five of our staff members have now joined the elite group of leading scholars and scientists. They were inaugurated last night as Members of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) at the annual Awards Ceremony on 20 October 2021. Congratulations to Professor Heidi Abrahamse (Health Sciences), Prof Shireen Motala (Education), Prof Ruth Stewart (Humanities), Prof Kapil Gupta (Engineering and the Built Environment) and Prof Nnamdi Nwulu (Engineering and the Built Environment). ASSAf honours the country’s most outstanding scholars by electing them to Membership of the Academy. ASSAf Members are drawn from the full spectrum of disciplines, and membership is a great honour in recognition of scholarly achievement. Well-done colleagues, you have made UJ proud!
I am reminded of a saying that, “the true African university must be the one that draws its inspiration from its environment: not a transplanted tree, but one growing from a seed that is planted and nurtured in the African soil.” In this regard, our Community Engagement Unit (within University Relations) and various Faculties and Departments held their annual Community Engagement Advisory Board (CEAB) meeting this week. I am told that there were reports of outstanding work in community development that is being done through knowledge and skills transfer. The list of good work they do is too long to mention on this platform, but you will soon be able to read more about it through our various communication platforms and the media.
As UJ, we are very excited to showcase our next group of graduates through the virtual graduation ceremony videos on the graduation page of the UJ website. At this October virtual graduations, UJ awarded more than 1 150 qualifications, which includes 316 Master’s and 93 Doctoral qualifications. We have also had a dedicated facility available for graduates to collect their certificates, hire gowns, and take graduation photographs with two family members for the last few months. This facility will be available until the end of October for graduates to use. Congratulations to you all!
Today also marks the last day of lectures in the 2021 Academic Year, and examination/assessments will soon commerce. I once again urge students to remain committed to the cause to the very end. You will soon reap the fruits of your hard labour! I again remind our students who may feel overwhelmed with the preparations of exams/assessments that our Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCaD) is on hand to offer assistance to students. This includes a walk-in service at all our offices on the different campuses, individual counselling sessions as well as our 24-hour Crisis Line (082 054 1137).
We again remind you to please inform us about your vaccinations status via the link: https://ulink.uj.ac.za/ujvac. Enter the information after your first vaccination, and where relevant, update it after your second vaccination. The survey takes less than one minute. We use the numbers (and not your personal details), to inform us on the vaccination statistics of the UJ community. The statistics will guide us in our response to the COVID-19 situation and the implementation of our re-integration plans. You may also use this link to notify our campus clinics if you have tested positive for COVID-19, or if you know of a colleague or a student who has tested positive.
The University leadership will continue to monitor the national and provincial COVID-19 outlook, and an update will be provided accordingly. This information may be verified by visiting: www.uj.ac.za/coronavirus. Should any of you experience symptoms of the coronavirus, please use the National Hotline of 0800 029 999 or WhatsApp line 0600 123456 or go to the following link for more information: https://sacoronavirus.co.za/.
Please also 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/coronavirus/. We appeal to all to adhere to the recommended precautionary measures, hygiene and physical distancing (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public) at all times.
Kea leboga, enkosi, baie dankie, ndi a livhuwa!
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg
Times mentioned in this newsletter refer to the South African time-zone.