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VC’s 2017 year-end message

- Wits University

Professor Adam Habib extends his appreciation to staff, friends, alumni and donors of the University for their efforts in making Wits successful in 2017.

The year 2017 has been an exceptional year for Wits University as we embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution and infuse technology through all aspects of University life, including teaching, research and learning. We have invested R500 million in an ICT upgrade, adopted a new cutting edge research strategy, and introduced innovative blended learning options, including a digital campus, online courses and high tech classrooms.

I am proud of the more than 8 700 students who graduated from Wits, who according to the latest Times Higher Education Global Employability Survey are the most employable graduates on the continent.

Research output at Wits has catapulted by over 45% in the last four years, with over 85% of Wits academics publishing in quality, international journals. This is the very core of why universities matter – we create new knowledge and the high level skills required to address the challenges that societies face today, but also equip graduates with the skills to tackle problems that may arise in the future. Wits punches above its weight in the world - our researchers are developing life-saving vaccines, finding the genes that cause cancer, developing precision medicine, tackling diabetes and malaria and improving the accuracy of TB testing. Others are working to change policies - like the implementation of a sugar tax or working to create an HIV-free society.

Some of the most highly cited and visible researchers ranked in the top 1% in the world are based at Wits. Some seek to shed some light on our past. The new Centre of Excellence in early Human Behaviour is one such example, as are the discoveries related to Homo Naledi, Little Foot and even a lost continent under Mauritius. Another stronghold is capital, politics and the economy – read the views of our academics in the latest edition of our new research magazine, Curiosity. About 1200 muckrakers also made it to Wits this year. Read more.

Innovation is also a hallmark of the Wits School of Mining Engineering which recently celebrated 120 years. The School is now working on new mining technologies and grappling with issues related to deep level mining, big data analysis, mechanisation and safety. The New African Energy Leadership Centre and the Centre for Inequality are also relevant examples.

Wits is App’tly Rising

From new discoveries in quantum communications, light and bandwidth to major global breakthroughs in astronomy, electronics and physics, Wits researchers compete globally and impact locally. Technology is increasingly being used in research including on smart cities, elephants, aardvarks and sungazers. Not to be outdone, Wits students this year created Brainternet and developed a R2000 bionic prosthesis to give amputees a hand. The Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct is the new tech hub of SA, where VR, AI, AR, tecchies and digital creatives congregate to inspire, innovate and incubate new ideas and disruptive technologies for the 21st Century.

e-Learning and Online Digital Teaching Suite

There has been a significant uptake in the development and use of digital content in teaching and learning. Wits has developed a series of short online courses, professional courses via its digital campus and was the first African university to introduce six Massive Open Online Courses. In 2018, Wits will launch two new full online postgraduate e-degrees in Administration and Management. These strategies will enable more students to access higher education, strengthen Wits’ global footprint and enhance contact teaching and blended learning in a 21st Century environment.

Wits also offers two unique degrees in game design. I was privileged to attend the recent Wits student gaming exhibition and was pleased to note that some games will also be commercialised next year and that most game design students already have jobs. 

Transformation and Student Support



Wits administers approximately R1 billion in financial aid, scholarships and bursaries annually. About 27 000 out of Wits’ 37 000 students receive some form of financial support.

Two years ago, Wits adopted an accelerated transformation programme, which includes diversifying our student enrolment, changing our staff demographics, addressing the living standards of the poorest of our employees, creating a cosmopolitan environment in our university and residences, implementing a new language policy, transforming our curriculum, and renaming our buildings and spaces. Progress is tracked monthly. Read the latest report.

Partnerships and Collaborations

Wits has secured several ties with universities, corporates and innovation companies in China and the US. Over R100 million in new funding and R200 million in recurrent funding, has been raised in 2017 mainly through corporate donations and support from trusts and foundations. Wits is also striving to fund 20 new Chairs and Centres over the next five years. Some of the recent Chairs and Centres that were funded include the: Telkom BCX Chair in Digital Business, the African Energy Leadership Centre, the Centre for Inequality Studies and the Centre for the Study of the US in Africa. The University is currently actively raising funds for a wide range of Chairs and Centres in Data Sciences, Water, Precision Medicine, and Risk & Insurance.

It was also great to welcome alumni to Wits on two special occasions – EOH’s 50th celebration and the 95th Mens Res reunion were heartwarming.  

Challenges

Like other universities, Wits is still waiting on direction from government on the future funding of the higher education sector. The lack of accommodation remains a key issue to which a collective national response is required. Challenges pertaining to safety and security in Braamfontein are actively being addressed.

Bring it home

It is with great fanfare that we celebrated Bidvest Wits’ victory as the champions of the Premier Soccer League Champions, a first in the University’s history. There were several other sporting achievements in rugby, basketball, hockey, fencing and rowing.

In other news, the Origins Centre is also using high tech to tell the story of humankind whilst the Andy Warhol exhibition broke attendance records and drew thousands to the Wits Art Museum, firmly entrenching Braam as a trendy place. I encourage you to visit these world-class museums during the holidays.

Witsies can also look forward to a final farewell concert at Wits where it all began for alumnus Johnny Clegg. We look forward to seeing you there!

Conclusion

On behalf of Wits University, I would like to extend my deep appreciation to you for your effort and support in making Wits successful. Wits is a national asset that belongs to all of us, and through our collective effort, we can effect change for the better in society. We look forward to welcoming you to Wits University in 2018.

Best

Professor Adam Habib

Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Wits University

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