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An inclusive institution advancing rights of people with disabilities

Attended by a diverse group of stakeholders, Unisa held a historic and ground-breaking sod-turning ceremony, marking the start of the construction and development processes at its Sunnyside Campus. Funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the university launched the Centre of Excellence in Disability, Sunnyside phase one (demolitions), Sunnyside phase two (Avondale and houses), as well as Sunnyside security upgrade. 


Matsiababa Motebele

Unisa is committed to embracing inclusivity and providing quality education and services to people with disabilities. Therefore, the Centre of Excellence in Disability will serve as a world-class specialised research entity. This will advance research that influences policy and contributes to the independence and full participation of people with disabilities. Also, as part of Unisa's strategic planning, the centre will develop innovative and transformative learning methods for students with disabilities.

Welcoming attendees to the auspicious event, Matsiababa Motebele, Unisa's Vice-Principal: Operations and Facilities, acknowledged that the ceremony took place amidst the university's 150 years milestone celebration. Motebele explained that the development project will include high-technology computer laboratories and 24-hour study facilities. Additionally, he remarked that to ensure the safety of students, the facilities will have advanced security systems. Motebele also shared the artists' impressions and area view of the facilities envisioned by the university. 


Professor Nareadi Phasha

Ensuring access for all

Distinguished Unisa stakeholders shared messages of support. Spearheading the Centre of Excellence in Disability, Professor Nareadi Phasha of Unisa's Department of Inclusive Education explained the process of applying for the DHET infrastructure funding and that she and her team benchmarked locally and internationally to strengthen the idea around the centre. She added: "Establishing this centre at Unisa is suitable as the institution enshrines the principles of social justice and fairness and promotes equity, access and opportunities for all." 

Dr Siva Moodley, who is a former Chairperson of the Unisa Employees Disability Forum and former Director of the Advocacy and Resource Center for Students with Disabilities (ARCSWiD), stated that the Centre of Excellence in Disability is one of Unisa's flagship projects and that the multi-purpose centre will, among others, further enhance teaching and learning through research and assessment. "Students with disabilities will also be instrumental in shaping teaching and learning. Therefore, Unisa will have more access, throughput, success and advanced resources for active participation."

Further delivering messages of support, Moipone Masalesa, Unisa's Gauteng Regional Director, affirmed that the university's commitment goes beyond the academic agenda but further ensures students' safety. Also, Siyabonga Lushaba, Unisa's Gauteng Region Student Representative Council (RSRC) Chairperson, whom other RSRC members accompanied, encouraged the university to be further inclusive for students in marginalised areas. Additionally, Gratitude Ramphaka, a member of the Unisa Council, remarked that the projects support the university's vision and strategic identity as a leading open and distance e-learning institution on the African continent. Professor Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo, a member of the Unisa Senate, indicated the significant leading role that Unisa should play in revitalising the city's facilities through the projects. 

Donald Kubayi, Deputy Director of Infrastructure Support at DHET, provided a context of Unisa and DHET's deliberations regarding the project funding, noting that out of all the universities that applied for disability funding, Unisa got the most funding as its proposal was more appealing and in-depth.


Professor Puleng LenkaBula

'Working together will yield positive results'

Reflecting on the history of the project and reiterating its significance, Unisa's Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, maintained that any university's support of universal access to education for students with disabilities would not succeed if there were inadequate teaching, learning and research supporting infrastructure. LenkaBula appreciated all partners at the centre of the projects' development, including the 23 multi-purpose centres set up in all Unisa campuses to serve students with disabilities across the country. She encouraged ARCSWiD and the Centre of Excellence in Disability to converge to achieve improved and more effective services for students with disabilities.

"The Centre of Excellence in Disability will not only serve Unisa but will serve the national agenda," asserted LenkaBula. She added: "Issues of disabilities form part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, aimed at promoting and protecting their human rights, independence and dignity." For LenkaBula, through this project, the university promotes social justice and an enabling environment for students to learn and support the work of people with disabilities. 

Referencing the recently announced 2023 Times Higher Education, Webometrics and Shanghai ranking improvements for Unisa, LenkaBula assured that when the project advances research at the university, this will further improve its rankings. She also stressed that such improvements will only be possible if Unisa stakeholders, especially internal stakeholders, work together to advance the university's agenda in society's best interest and provide access to education for the marginalised. She encouraged the stakeholders to repurpose their energy in building the university's success.

In conclusion, the VC urged various structures to embrace and effectively use the leadership opportunities provided to them, and she thanked DHET for the support it granted to Unisa.


Unisa management and stakeholders during the sod-turning ceremony

After an exciting sod-turning ceremony, demonstrating that the construction work has begun, Feresane Sibeko, Executive Director of Unisa's Facilities Management, remarked that the projects signified that Unisa was lifted to greater heights in ensuring that inclusivity, security and growth within the higher education sector are addressed.

Click here to watch a YouTube recording of the sod-turning event.


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

Publish date: 2023/08/23

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