News & Media

Quarterly communication from Council: Robust engagement at Unisa Council Lekgotla

Revisiting the Unisa 2030 Strategic Plan, the Transformation Plan and taking stock of the university’s progress in implementing these key imperatives took centre stage at the Unisa Council’s annual lekgotla hosted from 11 to 12 September 2018. Council engaged in robust discussions, particularly on what defined Unisa’s identity as a university and its transformation to becoming a truly African university.

At the last meeting of Council in November 2017, Council adopted transformation as its mantra. As a result of this development the University in the words of the Principal and Vice Chancellor made it clear that 2018 would be a year of reinvention of the very idea of the university. Coupled with this would be vigorous implementation of transformation at all levels, including those of curricula, employees and students.

A highlight of the Council meeting on the 13th of September post the two days’ workshop was the participation of Dr Thabo Mbeki, Unisa Chancellor,where he interacted with members of Council.  Eager to draw on the experience and wisdom of the former president, African intellectual and proponent of the African Renaissance, Mr Sakhi Simelane, Chairperson of Council, and Professor Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, briefly summarised the key issues  that Council grappled with during the two days’ of the workshop.

Members of Council and the Chancellor talked about strategic matters like academic versus entrepreneurial learning, why Unisa exists as a university, its understanding of the modern university, and the rising cost of educationamongst others. Council expressed a need for the university to be visible, influential and producing quality graduates that respond to the needs of South Africa and the continent.

It was the first time that the Chancellor interacted with Council in a formal meeting. The Chancellor welcomed the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the university and the challengesfacing the sector.  This, he said, would inform what he could do in order to support the Council and Unisa in his capacity as Chancellor.

When he began to speak, Dr Mbeki posed a few pertinent questions:

  • Unisa is an African university with a huge footprint in Africa, but does this have an impact on its curriculum?
  • Is Unisa a truly African university located in South Africa, or largely a South African university?  
  • The challenges experienced by countries on the rest of the continent might be different to South Africa’s, but how does Unisa account for this?
  • The university promotes multilingualism and accommodates the country’s official languages as far as possible, but does it make provision for the language restrictions that might be experienced by students from other countries?

The conversation also turned to digitalisation, technological developments and the fourth industrial revolution, and where Unisa saw itself in five years’ time in terms of technological transformation. What would be the impact of technological transformation on its teaching, and how would this affect its students, particularly those from under-resourced communities?

Speaking on Unisa’s size and its influence on society, Mr Simelane said Unisa produced in the order of 50% of the country’s teachers and social workers, and its College of Law accounted for a significantly large number of the country’s law graduates. Therefore, he said, the importance of delivering quality education and continuous improvement in this regard could not be overemphasised.  

Keenly participating in the conversation, several Council members also shared their views on matters spanning from accommodating students with disabilities to affirming an African identity, advancing Africa’s intellectual independence, Afrocentric knowledge systemsand so on.

Council members were unanimous in their view that the Chancellor could play a significant role in supporting Unisa in finding answers to and managing these complex issues. They also saw Dr Mbeki as an ambassador assisting in the marketing and positioning of Unisa on the continent and globally.

Acknowledging the many ideas and suggestions of Council members, the Chancellor suggested that he, the Chairperson of Council and the Vice-Chancellor work together to produce an actionable programme that would allow him to make a contribution to advancing Unisa’s vision.  It was agreed that the Vice Chancellor needs to convene this three-member committee.

The meeting ended on a light note where members of Council expressed their appreciation of their meeting with the Chancellor.

Publish date: 2018/09/19