College of Economic & Management Sciences

Unisa should reclaim its leadership position in education

Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Raphael Mpofu, acting Executive Dean (insert)

For many years, the College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS) has been the largest contributor to Unisa’s third-stream income through of short learning programmes (SLPs), Professor Raphael Mpofu, acting Executive Dean, said during a virtual visit paid to CEMS staff by Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC). He welcomed her and encouraged staff to join her on her journey as the university’s new chief executive officer. 

Strengths and challenges

In her address, the VC said Unisa should reclaim its position as a leader in the education arena.  “The university is celebrating 148 years of existence in 2021, and there are areas of excellence that demonstrate success,” she said. “However, there are also challenges. According to a study done by Professor Johann Mouton of Stellenbosch University, Unisa’s research output has dwindled. This is one of the areas that can be improved. Another is the success rate of students. Currently only 11 to 16 per cent of students are successful in their studies.”

The VC pointed out that almost 60% of Unisa students come from households with an annual income of less than R350 000 per annum, and are therefore National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) loan recipients. “Many of them are the first in their families to attend university,” she said. “The challenge is to determine how academics and administrative staff can work together to ensure a better student success rate. You have the knowledge and experience to achieve this.”

Adding muscle to ICT

The VC stated that the university’s information and communications technology (ICT) should be strengthened to accelerate service delivery while ensuring that service delivery is of a high quality. “Computer science experts will soon join the current ICT team to realise this goal,” she said. “One of the areas to be improved is the rollout of Moodle.”

Reacting to a plea that Unisa should refrain from changing deadlines all the time, the VC said that the institution is also affected by outside factors. “Among these factors were two recent court cases, one of which dealt with the registration of students after the Department of Higher Education had ordered Unisa to cut registration numbers by 20 000,” she continued. “The university also had to wait for judgment in the case brought by the Economic Freedom Fighters, which would have an impact on the funding and the academic processes of the university as many students depend on grants to pay for their studies. The institution must try to ensure that while we comply, we do not only tick the boxes but also do the right things. The constant extension of registration dates that leads to the extension of assignment due dates has an appalling effect on the academic project. Students call us the ‘university of extension’. Extensions affect teaching and learning, and even add to the dropout rate.”

Change with the times

The VC said that staff must communicate proactively with students where they are – not on myUnisa. “Students turn to WhatsApp, Telegram and other social media and messaging platforms to learn from one another and not from us,” she said.  

The VC also said that students should be given opportunities to work on small projects in different colleges and departments to improve their employability.

In closing, Prof LenkaBula said that she was thankful that academics were finally being acknowledged for their valuable contribution to the success of the university. 

Publish date: 2021/07/15