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“Feel free to DM me regarding poor service”

Dr Olwethu Sipuka

Dr Olwethu Sipuka was recently appointed as the Dean of Students at Unisa. Hitting the ground running, he explains that student deaneries at universities have always been entities that deal with student leadership. “However,” he adds, “I am determined to broaden the scope and functions of my office by extending the focus to overseeing holistic student needs at Unisa. For me, this means finding out how we can employ developmental programmes in the interests of all of our students.”

The Office of the Dean of Students, along with its staff, is focused on supporting the academic and personal development of Unisa students. Says Sipuka: “My office is the students’ first and last hope. I am here to provide the necessary advocacy, but also to make sure that our students are provided the service that they pay for. We, as a university, cannot have cases of lecturers not responding to students’ emails and queries. It is simply not right.”

Sipuka says that his role is to make sure that the university serves its constituency in the manner that it sells itself to the public. “We are known to the public as the African university in the service of humanity,” he says.  “How do we service humanity if we are failing to do basic things like responding to our students in a timeous manner?”

Things have to change

Sipuka asserts that things have to change, and he assures students that his office will ensure that change happens. Asked if students can hold him accountable, Sipuka does not hesitate to state that he means business. “My office is highly active on social media and ready to tackle service delivery issues should students choose to address me personally through social media,” says Sipuka. “Students are free to directly message (DM) me on Twitter: @osipuka.”

Career highlights

Sipuka’s CV is an impressive one, as befits someone in his position. He recently obtained his PhD. His thesis was, interestingly, on student support services in an open, distance and eLearning (ODeL) institution. “When I first pursued this specific subject matter five years ago,” he says, “I had aspired to one day become a dean of students, and today I find myself at Africa’s leading ODeL institution.”

His career highlights also include serving in the Obama-initiated Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Southern African Leadership Centre, aimed at developing young leaders in Africa. He was Acting Dean of Students at Unisa and, before then, Deputy Director at the Advocacy and Research Centre for Students with Disabilities (ARCSWiD). He also serves on a number of boards.

One career highlight, however, stands out among the rest – Sipuka was once himself a student leader. Asked how he will use his experience to work with Unisa student leaders and students in general, he says: “The fact that I was a student leader before enables me to understand the different axes of oppression that a university setting presents. I walk into the position knowing that all universities are contested terrains – socially, politically and administratively. As a person who was once on the receiving end, I am presenting myself in the Dean of Students position as someone who is going to make sure that the most marginalised people receive education as a basic right. I also intend being an equaliser of opportunities,” Sipuka adds.

A promise to Unisa students

“You have a friend in the Office of the Dean,” Sipuka assures the Unisa student community. “I have gone through the injustice of the higher education system and I present myself as a dean who is people and service centred. I am therefore prepared to walk the extra mile and not leave anybody behind.”

*By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021-02-01 00:00:00.0