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Vice-Chancellor Message – 26 August 2022

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Dear UJ Community,

Like me, many of you would have welcomed the marked improvement in the weather this week, with predominantly sunny and warm conditions breaking what has been a relentless cold spell. Winter is fast giving way to Spring, and soon the landscape will be lit up with a vibrant display of blooming trees and flowers. If the early signs are anything to go by, the change in the season could also herald some much-needed respite from the gloomy economic outlook in our country.

The latest report by Statistics South Africa indicating that the official unemployment rate in South Africa declined further to 33.9% in the second quarter of 2022, from 34.5% in the first quarter, is a welcome development. This is indeed encouraging, considering that economists were expecting a rise in unemployment due to intensifying load shedding recently and the economic impact of the devastating floods in KwaZulu-Natal. The unemployment rate had hit a record high of 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021.

I hope that this latest development, coupled with the early signs of stronger economic growth for the year so far, serves as a catalyst. An economic boost is vital considering the latest report that the annual consumer inflation reached a 13-year high – increasing from 7.4% in June to 7,8% in July. As the Stats SA report indicates, transport, food, housing and basic utilities continue to place upward pressure on the annual rate, while bread and cereals, oils and fats, fuel and electricity have all impacted on this month’s statistics. Although there are still structural impediments, there does seem to be a much needed glimmer of hope on the horizon.

On the home front, please join me for a virtual applause as I congratulate our Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Professor Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya, who has received a royal recognition in Africa this week. She was coronated as the Queen of Research by Ghanaian Abeadze Traditional Council on Tuesday, 23 August 2022. The coronation ceremony coincided with the Paramount Chief’s Annual Event, which followed the launch of the Pan African Centre for Epidemics Research (PACER) by SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on Monday, 22 August 2022.

At the Coronation event, which was filled with pomp and circumstance, Paramount Chief/President Abeadze Kwebu Ewusi VII said the decision to honour Prof Phaswana-Mafuya by installing her as Her Majesty Queen of Research is supported by her impactful research contributions in fighting pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 which have had a devastating impact on the African continent. As he aptly put it, Prof Phaswana-Mafuya is one of Africa’s most celebrated icons of research in science, a research mentor and role model who has made outstanding contributions in the field. Her contribution and achievements in the field of science has touched many lives, especially the next generation of women researchers. To read more about this, click here.

At UJ, we recognise the importance of transformation across all spheres of our University. In this regard, I was pleased to read about our University’s Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP), which is a celebration of our young scholars’ academic journeys by the Division for Teaching Excellence, as showcased in a publication called Showcasing UJ nGAP Scholars. This is indeed a fitting recognition of the transformative potential of nGAP, and of the hard work done to ensure that UJ provides the required support, care and enabling environment.

In short, nGAP provides universities with opportunities to grow a new cohort of academics, with particular attention paid to transformation in terms of race and gender. Funding provides for all candidates’ salary and development costs for the first three years, and partial funding for salary and development costs for a further three years, after which the position is fully funded by the University. Each nGAP scholar is allocated a mentor as well as a reduced teaching workload to allow them to focus on their PhD research.

To date, UJ has had a total of 29 nGAP posts hosted by different faculties, and all 29 posts have been taken up. Since its inception in 2015, five participants have completed their PhDs. In early 2022, UJ was allocated an additional five posts in the fields of Metallurgy, Science Education, Auditing, Psychology and Communication and Media. To all our nGAP scholars, we are proud of you!

On matters related to our Global Excellence and Stature (GES 4.0) catalytic initiative, which is underpinned by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), our School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) has launched an exciting initiative. The XR lab was established by the Food Evolution Research Laboratory (FERL), in collaboration with the Metaverse Research Unit at UJ.

With extended reality and the combination of both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), the XR lab adopts these technologies for research and teaching and learning purposes. Students will now be taught a concept that will be demonstrated and assessed by VR or AR, such as nutrition education, portion control, healthy eating choices vs unhealthy food choices. Infused with a Food Away from Home (FAFH) theme, students will now also be exposed to different food environments and their choices can be assessed. Well done to all the colleagues involved in this initiative!

More good news is that a UJ team just advanced to the quarterfinals in the regional rounds of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Arbitration Moot competition across Africa. Led by Mr Louis Koen, the team members are Michelle Gadzikwa (final year LLB), Monique Gosai (3rd year LLB), Samantha Smith (3rd year BCom Law) and Gaylin Gelderbloem (final year LLB). Well done to you all!

On the sporting front, you would recall that in May this year, I informed you that our University achieved a bronze label certification in the global Healthy Campus Programme. Dr Nolitha Vukuza (Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs & UJ Sport) received the qualification certificate and medal during the Healthy Campus Programme Ceremony in Brussels, Belgium. I am pleased to share with you that this week, FISU awarded our University a silver certification label, moving up a notch from where we were in May 2022. The Healthy Campus Programme’s 101 registered universities represent 32 countries on five continents, and 47 of them have been certified in one of the five levels of the programme.

The programme, which is run by the Federation of International University Sports (FISU), encourages universities around the world to heed the call to address the federation’s seven cardinal pillars linked to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are 1) Healthy Campus Management, 2) Physical Activity and Sport, 3) Nutrition, 4) Disease Prevention, 5) Mental and Social Health, 6) Risk Behavior, and 7) Environment, Sustainability and Social Responsibility. Congratulations to everyone involved in making this a success!

Finally, I remind you to join the UJ Chair of Council Mr Teke for his Hybrid Reading Group today, at the usual time of 14h00 (CAT). This time, he will lead us through a discussion of the book, The Man Who Broke Capitalism – How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America—and How to Undo His Legacy by David Gelles, which is listed as a New York Times Bestseller.

To join the discussion, Click here:

In-person attendance: APK Library, Alan Paton Board Room, Level 3.

Kea leboga, enkosi, baie dankie, ndi a livhuwa, thank you!

Issued by:

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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