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Review of the implementation of the Accelerated Transformation Programme

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A critical evaluation of the accelerated transformation programme adopted by Wits.

Dear Colleagues and Students

It has been almost 18 months since the University adopted an accelerated transformation programme, which focused on eight priority areas. At this point, we believe that it is important to critically evaluate the impact of this programme, as well as to elicit your perceptions on the elements that have worked, and 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, ensure that managers adhere to the University’s HR, transformation and related policies and 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.

Over 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 our five faculties over the last 18 months. In addition, five more appointments have been made through the Vice-Chancellor’s Equity Fund. We are now in the process of evaluating the impact of these appointments on the academy.

We are of the view that the implementation of this strategy has been successful in that it has effectively started to diversify the academy, but it is not enough. The Vice-Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe and the Chief Financial Officer, Mr Prakash Desai have been requested to determine how the University can generate funds to continue this programme. It is 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. We welcome further suggestions from the University community on this aspect of the programme.

2. INSOURCING

Another successful component of Wits’ transformation programme 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 recently approved the insourcing of 95 maintenance workers who will be insourced over the next few months, as will bus drivers. It is envisaged that approximately 1500 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 our 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 staff the opportunity to register for a National Certificate in Business Administration in order to eventually empower employees 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 from research grants, with the approval of the respective donors. Despite these significant trade-offs, we are 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 our community for many years.

3. INSTITUTIONAL NAMING

In line with the new 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 we are 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. 

4. CURRICULUM REFORM

There have been successful University-wide initiatives like the Decolonising the Curriculum symposium held earlier this year by the Centre for Learning and Teaching Development, or the approval of new amendments to existing programmes, by the Academic Planning and Development Committee, after considering transformation imperatives. A good example is the new language requirements which have been introduced in the BEd programmes. The eLearning team is also in discussion with several academics to develop mini-MOOCS on topics which address diversity, equity, social justice and language. The University also launched three Massive Open Online Courses last year and will launch a further three this year. Strong systems also remain in place for the renewal of the curriculum in order to comply with the requirements of qualification authorities, accreditation bodies and professional standards.

However, whilst all faculties have provided detailed reports on the progress made regarding the transformation of the curriculum at school and departmental level, usually through teaching and learning committees, the level and depth of these interactions remains uneven across the University. Whilst some schools and faculties have engaged comprehensively on issues pertaining to transformation of the curriculum there are schools where these conversations are just surfacing.

Feedback from staff and students on whether curriculum reform is actively taking place at the course or programme level will help us to better assess progress in this area.  

5. LANGUAGE POLICY

The implementation of the University’s new Language Policy has been slower than anticipated. In 2017, a Language Board, comprising of a range of University stakeholders, was established to focus on creating awareness and implementing the 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.

All official University letterheads, business cards and complimentary slips are also 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, we are still grappling with some serious discrepancies in how we engage with and relate to one another. We remain a segmented community, where our diversity is sometimes not celebrated. Some members of minority groups feel silenced on campus, whilst a culture of gender-based harm and intolerance for people living with disabilities still 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 as we work towards building social cohesion in our environment. Your views on how we can strengthen our community and promote the values of tolerance, appreciation and mutual respect will be appreciated. 

Following an institutional culture survey undertaken in 2016, the Transformation and Employment Equity Office designed a programme comprising of dialogues and focus group interviews. The programme has not taken off as envisaged in part because a centrally run programme cannot address the issues that manifest themselves in peculiar ways in the different parts and sections of the University. Such programmes are best run in the various Faculties and Schools, Institutes and Centres as well as the support divisions. The Senior Executive Team agreed that Faculties and support divisions should, going forward, develop their own programmes with the appropriate assistance from the Transformation and Employment Equity Office.

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

7. PROMOTING A DIVERSE AND COSMOPOLITAN RESIDENCE LIFE EXPERIENCE

The Dean of Student Affairs supported by the Head of Campus Housing 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 our 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, we support 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. The University has also allowed access to students to view their progress report and unofficial transcript throughout the year, regardless of whether they have outstanding debt. All students who owed R15 000, or less and who were eligible to graduate were allowed to graduate, provided that they signed an Acknowledgment of Debt.

The University also made a comprehensive submission to the Fees Commission on Higher Education last year, as did Wits students and student leaders. The Commission’s report is expected to be released in the next few months.

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.

More importantly, we believe that 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. We need to think about the graduates that we are nurturing to lead in the decades to come. The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform society, the way we teach, undertake research and work, in fundamental ways, and if we are not agile and at the frontiers of new knowledge creation, we run the risk of being left behind in the global knowledge economy. 

CONCLUSION

Transformation remains an imperative 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. We are pleased that some of the initiatives that have been introduced have successfully begun to address our transformation challenges, but there is still much to be done. We would like you to share your views on transformation at Wits via vco.news@wits.ac.za. 

Thank you

SENIOR EXECUTIVE TEAM

3 AUGUST 2017

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