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Wits' 2016 achievements

- Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

[LETTER] Dear colleagues, students and friends of the University:

Let me start with a note of gratitude to students and staff, and the friends of Wits University. We would not be where we are today, were it not for your support during this difficult year.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to each and every one for the role that you have played in enabling Wits to complete the 2016 academic year.

In essence, we lost only three teaching days. This is remarkable given the immense challenges which we faced in recent months.

The Council of Wits University also expressed its appreciation to all staff, students, management and other key stakeholders who enabled the completion of the 2016 academic year.

Completion of the 2016 academic year

Wits University has successfully completed its official examinations for 2016 and is now preparing to accommodate deferred and supplementary examinations as part of the second sitting.

The successful completion of the academic year under strenuous circumstances was no easy feat and would not have been possible were it not for the unwavering commitment of the majority of the University community.

I laud our students who attended classes and persevered in the face of adversity, and their parents and guardians who walked this journey with us.

I recognise the extreme toll and burden carried by our academic, professional, and administrative staff who stood tall in the face of adversity and who were often the recipients of abuse, fear and hostility on the frontline. We acknowledge those who have gone the extra mile to accommodate the extended academic programme to ensure that we complete the year successfully.

To all our donors and alumni who continued to support Wits during this difficult period, I thank you for your commitment, loyalty and contribution to this great University. We have exceeded our fundraising and development targets for 2016, thanks to your contributions. Read more about Why Wits Matters.

We have received 70 000 applications for about 6 200 first year spaces and we look forward to welcoming first year students to Wits in 2017.

A way forward for 2016

I have penned my reflections on the 2016 #FeesMustFall campaign. While Wits supports the goal of free, fully-funded, quality, decolonised higher education, the #FeesMustFall movement has fractured our community and left us fragile.

We must now take the opportunity to have a frank discussion within our community about the purpose of the University, our role in society, our rules of engagement with each other, transformation, expanding opportunities for youth and the funding of higher education.

Achievements

There are too many achievements to mention in this newsletter and the majority of the major achievements are captured on the Wits website. Visit www.wits.ac.za for details.

Topping global rankings

Wits University has recorded some incredible achievements in 2016 on several fronts. Wits topped the global rankings on the continent in the prestigious Academic Ranking of World Universities and jumped 62 places in the Best Global University rankings.

We are first in the Centre for World University Rankings and in the top 200 in the Times Higher Education rankings, from amongst about 25 000 universities in the world.

Wits has also entered the top 100 globally in ranking by subject in clinical medicine and was placed 77th in the Clinical, Pre-Clinical and Health subject area for 2016-2017.

Research on the rise

Wits is a research intensive university that is locally relevant and globally competitive. Wits was awarded a R60-million grant to establish a national e-science teaching and training platform, a great step forward in the big data area. Our researchers have demonstrated a 100-times increase in the amount of information that can be packed into lightAfrica’s first Chair in Digital Business has been established at Wits, as was the Johannesburg City Chair in Economic Development, focused on developing smart cities. Research in the Humanities is on the increase, with several academics being recognised internationally and locally for their work in improving the lives of all.

Catch up on the latest research at Wits University via www.wits.ac.za/research

Research output at Wits has seen a 41% increase since 2012, an incredible achievement by any measure. Wits is home to 26 A-rated researchers who are global leaders in their field, with over 380 ratedresearchers. We host or co-host six DST/NRF Centres of Excellence, the highest of all South African universities.

Wits is also home to 26 South African Research Chairs and is the largest producer of medical specialists and super specialists in the country. Wits ranks in the 1% in the world and some Wits researchers also rank in the top 1% in their fields globally.

Read the latest research report.

Academic standards remain high

Wits continues to attract talented students from across the country. Throughput rates across all faculties are increasing and all Wits' professional programmes continue to be accredited by the relevant external bodies. This is one measure of Wits' quality, aside from the relevant internal and external audits and review systems.

Our students and staff continue to win major national and international awards. In 2016, Wits became the first university in Africa to launch Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via edX, an online learning platform established by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This is part of Wits' suite of online offerings that will be made available over the next three years to enhance access to higher education. These include MOOCs, short online courses, and ultimately online degree programmes.

Developing Wits’ footprint

It has been an incredible year for the digital revolution at Wits. We are investing over R500 million in a new ICT system which will be implemented in the coming years.

Wits is also transforming Braamfontein into a young, vibrant precinct for its notable tech-savvy and innovative community. Together with our partners in government, business and industry, we officially launched the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, Johannesburg in September this year. Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is Johannesburg’s newest high-tech address, where the incubation of start-ups, the commercialisation of research and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youth will take place.

In Parktown, Wits has played an integral role in the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital (NMCHT) on the Wits Education Campus. The hospital will be a world-class, highly advanced specialised children’s hospital which will save lives. The University is the lead academic partner of the hospital that is located on land donated by Wits. It will serve as a hospital for specialised training and research. The NMCH was launched on Friday, 2 December 2016 and will receive its first patient in 2017.

Wits has also made tremendous advances via the Wits Rural Facility which serves as a base for a range of research and teaching programmes across Wits faculties and schools, both within the facility and in surrounding communities.  This enables a multidisciplinary approach to learning about and addressing rural issues.

Transformation

In 2015, the University announced an accelerated plan to advance transformation through a number of key strategies. I am pleased to announce that we have made significant progress in several areas including transformation of the academy. Senate and Council approved a budget of R45 million obtained via a donation to diversify the academy at Wits.

To date, 19 appointments have been made to diversify the academy and 18 interviews are underway across faculties. In addition, 37 enabling grants totalling R6 million have been awarded to academics across the five faculties.

All faculties are tackling matters related to curriculum reform to ensure that our academic programmes are transformative, innovative, relevant and appropriate, and that they speak to our national and continental issues and priorities.

The University’s Language Policy has been approved by Senate and Council and the executive team is developing a plan to resource its implementation. All official University letterheads are also being revised to reflect information in three languages - English, isiZulu and Sesotho.

The reformed Institutional Naming Committee is active and a new naming policy has been approved. The insourcing of workers as per the Council decision taken this year is underway with the Insourcing Task Team made up of representatives of workers, management, students and academics meeting regularly.

The Transformation Office and other Wits departments are also working on programmes related to institutional culture and to promoting a diverse residence life experience. The entire University is grappling with issues related to access and the funding of higher education.

Our processes and policies surrounding gender equity, gender based harm, sexual harassment and rape are being reviewed. The current policies and procedures can be found on the Gender Equity Office webpage.

Conclusion

Despite the overall challenges that we have experienced, the University has recorded remarkable achievements in the 2016 year.

I am hopeful that the national processes that are in play will go some way towards resolving the current impasse around higher education funding. In the meanwhile, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank you for giving of yourself for the greater good of the University and for the advancement of our society.

Enjoy the break and keep safe during the holiday period.

Professor Adam Habib is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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