Dear UJ Community,
In what seemed a strange coincidence earlier this week, while I was reflecting on the ongoing debates around mandatory vaccinations at universities, my colleague, Dr Nolitha Vukuza (Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs & UJ Sport), sent me an interesting quote related to the topic. The quote, by Rachel Notley – the leader of an opposition party in Canada who has dedicated herself to fighting for workers’ rights and upholding policies that ensure their health and safety – reads as follows, “In order to deal with the issues, we’re going to take a thoughtful, considered, and intelligent approach to moving forward; and we’re going to do it with a great deal of consultation …”
This quote resonates with our University because it succinctly captures our approach to this contentious matter. On Wednesday, I took some time off from my usual engagements to tune in to the COVID-19 Vaccination Staff Consultation, where management interacted with staff about a consideration to amend the conditions of accessing campus and other University sites by means of a mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus. As extensively communicated here and other platforms, including via circulars, this is an important issue that not only involves staff and students, but it also includes external stakeholders such as suppliers, contractors, and other interested parties.
I listened intently as our Chief Operating Officer, Prof André Swart, and the Director of Employment and Wellness, Employment Relations, Mr Hoffman Geyer, systematically gave a breakdown of how the consultation process is unfolding. In brief, they explained that this was part of a wide range of consultations that includes a survey for staff and students, an engagement with organised labour unions as well as a comprehensive risk management analysis of our current COVID-19 interventions. It is worth noting that the two-day consultation process served as a platform for those who may not be members of any recognised union to express their views on the matter. We are also consulting with all registered students through recognised student bodies such as Student Representative Councils (SRCs), house committees, etc.
As UJ is part of the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system, we are also soliciting the views of other universities and Higher Health, the representative body for this sector on matters related to health. To ensure impartiality, we have appointed an external company to manage the consultation process, so that we end up with a fair and objective agreement that takes all views into consideration. UJ is guided by various pieces of legislation, and in particular the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the national COVID-19 Disaster Management Act as promulgated by the Ministry of Employment and Labour.
Upon conclusion of the consultation process, the outcome will be shared with all parties for comment, consideration and approval via all the statutory committees that includes Members of the Executive Committee (MEC), the COVID-19 Coordination Committee (CCC), and Senate. We will go back to the UJ Council for a resolution as to how we should approach the 2022 Academic Year. Once Council has made its final decision, we will submit the documentation to the Department of Employment and Labour for ratification before we implement accordingly.
I also noted the questions and concerns raised on Wednesday. I must say, without pre-empting the outcome, that we understand that people have the right to appeal and apply for specific exemptions such as medical and religions circumstances. I remind all staff members to complete the survey in order for us to make an informed decision by clicking here. Students should use the link provided in the communiqué that was issued to them earlier this week.
On a different note, news of the University rankings have been coming in swift and fast. Following the release of the 2022 Times Higher Education (THE) Emerging Economics University Rankings last week, which placed UJ at the 117th position, UJ has again been ranked among the world’s best universities in the global top 500 at position 417 in the latest 2022 U.S. News & World Report 2022 Best Global Universities Rankings (BGUR). This ranking encompasses the world’s top 1,750 universities spread across 91 countries. For the overall global rankings, BGUR use a methodology that measures research performance based on indicators such as a university’s global and regional reputation and academic research performance using bibliometric metrics such as citations, publications, and international research collaboration. Nationally, UJ retained fifth position amongst the South African universities that were ranked, six of which were ranked in the global top 500.
Our academic robustness was also recognised. UJ has nine subjects ranked in this year’s edition, with several subjects ranked the highest nationally in South Africa. To read more about this, click here. These are exceptional achievements, and my warmest congratulations go to all the staff and Executive Deans of the respective faculties.
For those of you who may not be aware, the Division for Academic Planning, Quality Promotion and Academic Staff Development (DAPQPASD) implements a range of academic and professional development initiatives to support teaching and learning. There have been 17 masterclasses and two sessions under the theme, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born: The Academic Journey, and five Connect@1 sessions to showcase the work of past VC Award winners for Teaching and Learning. Recordings are available on YouTube.
I am pleased to announce that two of UJ’s new Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP) lecturers in this division have been awarded PhDs this year. They are Dr. Rishen Roopchund, a lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering Technology, who received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Dr Sonwabile Mafunda, a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, who was awarded a PhD in Graph Theory from UJ. Congratulations Dr Roopchund and Dr Mafunda, and best of wishes with your academic journey!
Please also join me in congratulating Prof Mornay Roberts-Lombard, our Professor of Marketing and Head of Master’s and PhD studies who has been nominated to the panel that will adjudicate the 2021 South African Service Excellence Awards. A nomination for this high-profile event is an honour. Well done Prof Roberts-Lombard!
Prof Penny Govender (Department of Chemical Sciences) delivered her professorship inauguration lecture last week. Prof Govender explored Computational Chemistry as an alternative to chemistry in a laboratory when she delivered her professorial inauguration address on Tuesday, 26 October 2021.This particular area of science makes use of computer simulations to find solutions to both old and new challenges, case in point, the current Covid-19 pandemic. Prof Govender argues that because of this mode of research, scientists are able to deliver vaccines within a year that can help curb the intensity of the spread of the virus.
On Wednesday, I had the honour of delivering the keynote address when our University was graciously hosted by Ambassador H.E. Dr Nicolas Brühl, Switzerland in South Africa. We were joined by a high-level delegation comprising ambassadors (EU Delegation, France, Italy, Germany, Finland, Denmark) and deputy heads of mission (Norway, Sweden, Austria). My talk focused on the eight recommendations from the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR) as well as UJ’s strategic focus on the 4IR. Mr Daan Du Toit, Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation and Resources, Department of Science and Innovation, provided South Africa’s positioning on Science Diplomacy and how the PC4IR recommendations are already being implemented.
The UJ delegation comprised Prof Saurabh Sinha (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation), Prof Letlhokwa Mpedi (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic), Dr Nolitha Vukuza, Prof Ylva Rodny Gumede, (Head: UJ International Office) and Ms Ntombise Mangqase (Director: Fundraising and Administration, International Office). The conversation signalled that a transdisciplinary approach is a step in the right direction in order to remain competitive in the 4IR. A follow-up conversation on economic and industrial development took place on Wednesday, 27 Oct. 2021, led by Prof Fiona Tregenna, SARChI Chair: Industrial Development.
Our University will be closed this coming Monday, 1 November 2021 (due to the municipal elections), and reopen on Tuesday, 2 November 2021. To those of you who are registered to vote, best of wishes as you exercise your democratic right.
Lastly, to all our students and staff who celebrate Diwali, I wish you a joyous celebration next week!
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. 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. Don’t wait. Vaccinate. Phuthuma – Goma! O emetše eng! Itlhaganele o ye go enta! Gou! Kry jou inenting nou!
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.