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Transformation Update

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Successes recorded in initiatives implemented to address the University’s transformation challenges, although there is still a long way ahead.

It has been almost two years since the University adopted an accelerated transformation programme which focuses on eight priority areas. Earlier this year, key University constituencies, including staff and students, were provided with the opportunity to critically evaluate the impact of this programme, in order to determine the elements that are perceived to be successful, and to understand the challenges that remain in each category.

A major step forward has been the re-establishment and training of transformation committees at the school, faculty and divisional levels and the determination of their mandate. These committees have a role to play in actively monitoring transformation in their respective areas and raising strategic issues with the relevant Head of School, Dean or Executive. Moreover, members of these committees are expected to actively participate in selection and promotions committees, search committees and recruitment processes, to ensure that managers adhere to the University’s human resources, transformation and related policies and to advise on how the University’s transformation agenda and programmes can be better modified and implemented in a manner that allows the University to progress in these areas.

1. DIVERSIFYING THE ACADEMY

One of the most significant elements of the accelerated transformation programme centres on the diversification of the academy. A budget of R45 million was committed for making new appointments and allocating grants to enable African and Coloured staff to apply for promotion to the professoriate.

At last count, 28 new appointments have been made (of which 60% are female) to diversify the academy and over 40 enabling grants (of which 40%  were awarded to female academics) have been awarded to academics across the five faculties over the last 24 months. In addition, five more appointments have been made through the Vice-Chancellor’s Equity Fund.

The University is now in the process of evaluating the impact of these appointments on the academy and it is the view of senior management that whilst the implementation of this programme has been successful in that it has effectively started to diversify the academy, it is not enough. In light of this, it is proposed that this programme be extended and funded in 2018.

It is also worth noting that the Vice-Chancellor’s Equity Fund which has been running for over a decade currently supports 10 academic staff across the University by paying their salaries for three years before a School or Faculty takes over, which has largely been successful.  

2. INSOURCING

Another successful component of Wits’ transformation efforts pertains to the insourcing of workers, a cause which was championed by students and some academic staff for several years. In 2017, over 1 200 cleaning, catering, security, transport, waste management, grounds and landscaping staff joined Wits as employees, with full benefits. The Executive Committee of Council also approved the insourcing of 95 maintenance workers and bus drivers. It is envisaged that in total approximately 1 500 workers will be insourced by the end of the process. A Workers’ Charter has been developed to protect the workers of retailers and external service providers based on the University’s campuses.

New staff members have been through a thorough induction and orientation process and have received new uniforms and requisite equipment. As of January 2017, the minimum wage for insourced workers was upwardly adjusted from R 7 500 to R7 860.50 (cost to company), a significant increase in what workers earned last year. [WATCH] a video on the impact of insourcing at Wits.

The Human Resources Development Unit has also offered Wits employees the opportunity to register for a National Certificate in Business Administration in order to eventually empower insourced staff to tap into Wits’ bursaries scheme. More than 55 employees, the majority of whom are insourced employees, are participating in this learning opportunity.

The insourcing programme, including operational and implementation costs, amounted to just over R120 million, which was raised largely through the recommendations made by the Senate Task Team on Trade-Offs - to cut operational budgets by 6% for academic departments and 8% for professional and administrative units, supplemented with funds accrued from the interest of research grants, with the approval of the respective donors. Despite these significant trade-offs, management is of the view that from a human rights perspective, it was imperative for the University to insource staff. The resolution of the insourcing matter also finalises an issue that has divided the Wits community for many years.

3. INSTITUTIONAL NAMING

In line with the renewed Naming Policy, the revitalised Institutional Naming Committee, with extended representation from a range of stakeholders, has been active in renaming Wits’ places and spaces in recent months. Following the first round of proposals in 2016, the following buildings and spaces were renamed:

Old Name

New Name

Senate House

Solomon Mahlangu House

Central Block

Robert Sobukwe Block

Room  336, Richard Ward Building

Peter King Mineral Laboratory

Alan Rothberg Lecture Theatre

Khanya Lecture Theatre

Physical Education

Impilo

1 Trematon Place

Afrika House

 A second call for proposals was made in 2017, with a focus on naming after symbolic events and/or evocative descriptions of a particular place, and for naming after women who have played key roles in academia. The Committee has not received appropriate proposals in this regard and is encouraging members of the Wits community to actively participate in the renaming of places and spaces across our campuses. Several people and entities across the University, including the Gender Equity Office, are in the process of developing proposals for naming after women who were involved in the struggle for gender equality.  Council approved the renaming of the following places and spaces this year:

Old Name or Structure

New Name

Mathematical Sciences Building

T.W. Kambule Mathematical Sciences Building

The wall on the 12th Floor of University Corner (Journalism)

//Kabbo

A boardroom on the 12th Floor of University Corner (Journalism)

Percy Qoboza Boardroom

The wall on the 9th Floor of University Corner (Wits Radio Academy)

Capital Radio 604

A boardroom in the Journalism Department in University Corner

Christina Scott

A boardroom in the Journalism Department in University Corner

Bessie Head

Road alongside Alumni House

Alumni Lane


4. CURRICULUM REFORM

There have been several successful initiatives across the University in terms of curriculum reform. A substantial baseline survey was undertaken which focused on submissions from faculties in terms of curriculum renewal; initiatives to increase diversity and inclusivity; curriculum development capacity and quality; and participation in curriculum design and development. The report demonstrates that while there has been a remarkable effort to respond to students’ demands for transformation at the faculty level, with many creative initiatives, and much ongoing critical reflection and discussion, there remains the need to create more effective cross-faculty collaboration and coordination to advance University-wide strategies.

In terms of curriculum renewal, the report details extensive ongoing discussion and critical reflection on how to decolonise the curriculum. In general, it demonstrates that there has been a significant promotion of scholarship of teaching and learning in relation to curriculum renewal, and a move towards a distributed leadership model in terms of coordinating initiatives.

In terms of initiatives to increase diversity and inclusivity, the report details structural changes through biographical questions and first year surveys; curriculum conversations between staff, students and employers; increased student representation on committees and platforms for curriculum reform; reassessment of admissions policies; introduction of flexible degree programmes and provision for part-time evening students.

It further demonstrates content change in terms of diversity and inclusivity through programmes addressing retention issues and barriers to success, including the eco-social and the psycho-social; the construction of common first year courses and the continued bridging courses for learners and evening classes for adults; the integration of counselling expertise in course content or in mediations between students and staff; the inclusion of African perspectives and contributions to modern science, as well as the incorporation of  African languages and cultural narratives into critical thinking courses; and addressing the needs of top learners.

It also reports on implementation initiatives including mentorship programmes; an Enquiry Based Learning pilot, group problem solving initiatives and pedagogies which elicit increased feedback from students and increased use of formative assessments.

With regards to curriculum development capacity and quality, the University provides a range of courses for academic staff development by CLTD. There is now e-learning support through studios in each faculty and a plan to braid e-learning and curriculum renewal, amongst other initiatives.

Lastly, in terms of participation in curriculum design and development, the report shows that there is strong student involvement in curriculum design and awareness to increase student involvement, including on major committees; that students and recent graduates are aiding research into teaching practice through focus groups, and the information received is fed back into curriculum design; that there is an incorporation of the views of potential employers; industry and professional bodies as well as an adaptation of curricula to market and national needs, for example, the SKA, and a collective development of MOOCs.

5. LANGUAGE POLICY

In 2017 a Language Board was established, comprising of a range of University stakeholders to focus on creating awareness and implementing the new Language Policy, to determine the language requirements of the institution, and to compile a budget that will enable the implementation of the first phase of the plan. This process is underway.

All official University letterheads, business cards and complimentary slips are in the process of being revised with new stationery (print and electronic) reflecting information in three languages – English, isiZulu and Sesotho. The revamping of University signage to include alternative languages is also being replaced, as budgets become available or signs require replacement. 

6. INSTITUTIONAL CULTURE

The transformation of the University’s institutional culture remains a challenge. Whilst tremendous efforts have been made through conducting climate surveys and hosting dialogues and focus group discussions across the University, some serious discrepancies in how we engage with and relate to one another remain. The University remains a segmented community, where diversity is sometimes not celebrated. Some members of minority groups feel silenced on campus, whilst a culture of gender-based harm and the intolerance for people living with disabilities remains a reality. Racial tensions are also sometimes exploited to divide the community.

This is an area of transformation that requires the reflection, engagement and action of the entire University community. Following an institutional culture survey undertaken in 2016, the Transformation and Employment Equity Office designed a programme comprising of dialogues and focus group interviews. This programme has now been transferred to faculties and support divisions should, so that tailored programmes can be developed with the appropriate assistance from the Transformation and Employment Equity Office.

The Vice-Chancellor is also engaging with students, academics and professional and administrative staff members through a series of discussions across the University, including all transformation implementation committees.

7. PROMOTING A DIVERSE AND COSMOPOLITAN RESIDENCE LIFE EXPERIENCE

The Dean of Student Affairs supported by the Head of Campus Housing and Student Life and the Student Development and Leadership Unit have implemented a range of programmes to promote diversity and to explore the experiences of students in residences. One of the major discrepancies that has been detected pertains to the chasm in the experiences of resident and day students, which requires attention. Day students are often unable to participate in enrichment or leadership programmes and activities after hours or over weekends, as they are not physically on Wits’ campuses. A day house has been established in the DJ Du Plessis Centre to fill this gap, and to enhance cohesion amongst students across faculties, years of study and interest groups, in order to establish informal supportive structures for day students.

On a separate matter, over 95% of occupants in Wits’ residences are Black students. In this regard, management supports Council’s decision to postpone diversification of the residences in the short-term, until the sector can adequately meet the demand for accommodation.

8. ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION

Wits University is committed to the principle of access to quality, free higher education for those who cannot afford it. Wits’ student population is largely Black, although significant funding challenges and throughput incongruities remain.

The University has also made several concessions over the last two years, which has enabled a greater number of students, including international students, to register. The clearing of historical debt by the state for certain groups of students and the University’s waiver of the first fee payment in January, has also led to increased access for students. All students are able to ascertain their progression status, regardless of whether they have outstanding debt. All students who owe R15 000 or less and who are eligible to graduate are allowed to graduate, provided that they sign an Acknowledgment of Debt to repay the funds.

The University also made a comprehensive submission to the Heher Commission on Higher Education Funding, as did Wits students and student leaders. The Commission’s report has been released, but the University is still waiting on the state to put forward recommendations in this regard.  

The University administered over R1 billion in financial aid, scholarships and bursaries in 2016 and is participating in a pilot project this year targeted at the “missing middle” group of students who do not qualify for financial aid from the state and who are not wealthy enough to pay their own way. This is a joint effort between NSFAS and the private sector and is meant to serve as a template for rolling out funding to missing middle students across the sector in 2018. There are 5 675 Wits students receiving financial aid from NSFAS in 2017, up from under 4 000 in 2016. It is also estimated that about R178 million was allocated to Wits students in the “missing middle” in 2017, through a range of bursaries and scholarships, aside from NSFAS. 

Apart from the attempts to lower the financial barriers to access, the University has also extended its part-time offerings through the WitsPlus platform. New part-times programmes like the BA Law and BCom Law have been introduced. Over 25 students have registered for the new part-time BSc Engineering programme and students who wish to transition from a normal degree into the Graduate Entry Medical Programme can now access a bridging programme via WitsPlus.

A further innovation to improve both access and throughput has been the introduction of repeat modules for first years in certain faculties, which can be taken in the second semester of the year as a part-time course to allow students a second chance to complete and pass the year.

Numerous student support programmes have been instituted by faculties and the Dean of Students, including identifying and addressing students at risk and the implementation of at least three programmes to ensure food security for students.

THE FUTURE

It is imperative for all members of the Wits community to reflect on the role of the University in society today, and in the future. As an institution, there is a need to think about the graduates that we are nurturing to lead in the decades to come. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming society, the way we teach, how we undertake research and how the world of work will change in fundamental ways. The University must remain agile and at the frontiers of new knowledge creation, in order to lead in the global knowledge economy. 

CONCLUSION

Transformation remains an imperative focus for the University and whilst institutional programmes are stewarded by the executive, transformation must be embraced by every member of the Wits community, if it is to be successful. The Senior Executive Team is pleased that some of the initiatives that have been introduced have successfully begun to address the University’s transformation challenges, although there is still a long way ahead.

SENIOR EXECUTIVE TEAM

27 NOVEMBER 2017

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