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Unisa reflects on the year that has been

The Unisa community recently came together on a virtual platform to reflect on and celebrate the year that has been. The official closing ceremony of the 2021 academic year gave room to reflect on the challenges, opportunities, and accomplishments that the institution has had. Unisans who succumbed to COVID-19 were also honoured and remembered for their contribution in the academic project.

In his welcoming addressing, Professor Steward Mothata, Unisa Registrar, said: “It is time that we remember and realise how big and far-reaching we are. We are present in all corners of this country, and are diverse.”

Mashukudu Maboa

On behalf of the Unisa Council, its chairperson, Mashukudu Maboa, remarked: “The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic forced the higher education sector to review its approach to teaching, learning and student support. The sector had to quickly adapt to more digital methods, especially regarding student support and assessment services.”

The university started the year with a new principal and vice-chancellor (VC). Among others, Maboa stated that the Council, the new VC and her team had to ensure that the university achieves its set goals and targets, in line with the rethinking, reimagining and realignment trajectory of the institution’s strategy.

“As Council, we can say without any fear of contradiction, that we have our fullest confidence that our new VC is leading the university on the right path towards the realisation of our vision,” Maboa affirmed. “We are equally fortunate that we have appointed an individual who is a product of this university. When she rejoined this university as its head, she already had the DNA of this institution.”

Maboa acknowledged that it has not been an easy year for Unisa in the mainstream and social media domains. “From the beginning of the year until recently, there has been a relentless onslaught in the media space against the university. These events were deliberate, designed to cast aspersions on the stature and integrity of our university and its officials, as well as undermine the value of our qualifications. As we continue to improve our services to our stakeholders, we continue to weather the storm.” Maboa called for calm among the university’s stakeholders, and assured them that discussions between the university, the Minister of Higher Education and Training and his department, will take place only through official channels of communication.

Maboa announced with great pleasure that the current Chancellor of the university, Dr Thabo Mbeki, has been re-appointed for the second term. He remarked: “The fact that this eminent son of the African soil, and revered leader on the African continent and globally, has agreed to continue in the selfless role, is affirmation that Unisa remains a brand worthy of respect. We now have the duty of making sure that we live up to his known and reputable standards.” He concluded: “It is through excellence and hard work that we leave a good and lasting impression in the hearts and minds of our stakeholders.”

Professor Puleng LenkaBula

The VC casts her eyes into the present and future

Unisa Principal and VC, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, remarked that the closing ceremony is an opportunity to reflect honestly around what ought to be, what should have been, and what must be in the future. “I am proud that as a university, we have accomplished a great deal in many areas, and are set to improve these developments in 2022.”

She said: “The theme for 2021 was Reclaiming Africa’s intellectual futures, and accelerating transformation during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to ensure that as we reflected on the present, we cast our eyes into the future, lest we are burdened by the pandemic. This was a deliberately chosen theme to signal the beginning of a new chapter in the university’s history.”

According to the VC, Unisa’s commitment to the academic programme, and the idea that Unisa must be at the centre of South Africa’s knowledge production, its co-construction, and its innovation systems through knowledge, research, teaching and learning, and engaged scholarship, becomes an important arena for the university. “We also take into cognisance African intellectuals and scholars. We have contributed to the global arena. This reminds us that knowledge production is framed by intellectual commitment.”

The VC honestly reflected on staff and student challenges experienced during the year, and reiterated that they require resolution by, among others, practically ensuring student access and success, and a harmonious working relation between university stakeholders.

Some of the achievements that the VC touched on include access to digital learning systems, the improvement of university policies and teaching and learning, platforms created to enhance master’s and doctoral supervision and quality assurance, successful hosting of several conferences, and collaborations with other universities.

As she concluded, the VC reminded the attendees that close to 50% of South Africa’s teachers are produced by Unisa. “Unisa will continue to enhance student experience and effective communications with students and staff.”

Appreciating hardworking students

Professor Veronica McKay

As part of the proceedings, the university honoured students who achieved the best results in their studies, from undergraduate, to postgraduate level. Professor Veronica McKay, Acting Vice-Principal: Teaching, Learning, Community Engagement and Student Support, presented the College Graduate Excellence Awards. Professor Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, presented the Senate and Council Graduate Excellence Awards.

In closing, Dan Mosia, Deputy Chairperson of the Unisa Council, acknowledged the contributions, dedication and hard work of Unisa stakeholder in making the 2021 academic year a success, despite all challenges. He concluded: “We have achieved many milestones in keeping Unisa as one of the leaders of academic excellence with meaningful impact in the South African community and beyond. We take lessons and momentum from this year into 2022.”

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021/12/14

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