Univer­sity’s sense of be­long­ing

Fac­ulty of Com­mu­nity Health Sciences in Bel­lville sees UWC embed­ded in its com­mu­nity af­ter 58 years

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - OPINION - PRO­FES­SOR TY­RONE PRE­TO­RIUS The Road Half Trav­elled, Univer­sity En­gage­ment at a Cross­roads, Pre­to­rius is rec­tor and vice-chan­cel­lor at UWC

THREE years ago, I stood be­fore the UWC com­mu­nity and de­liv­ered my in­au­gu­ral ad­dress as the new rec­tor of the in­sti­tu­tion. A sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment on many fronts – from the per­son to the pro­fes­sional, as I had both stud­ied and started my aca­demic ca­reer at UWC.

In my speech, I de­tailed my vi­sion for UWC and stated that it was time for the univer­sity to ex­pand strate­gi­cally be­yond the bound­aries that the apartheid gov­ern­ment had im­posed on us. In 1960, when the Univer­sity Col­lege – as UWC was known then – en­rolled its first co­hort of stu­dents, it was pared down to the barest es­sen­tials to qual­ify as an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion for coloured South Africans.

Like the coloured peo­ple of Cape Town who had been forcibly re­moved and strewn across the bar­ren waste­land of the Cape Flats to be­gin new lives, UWC was des­ig­nated as a site for lim­ited coloured higher ed­u­ca­tion and re­stricted to a dis­con­nected, balka­nised ge­o­graph­i­cal space.

This week, 58 years af­ter its first stu­dents ar­rived at our main cam­pus, UWC fi­nally grew out of its apartheid co­coon with the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Fac­ulty of Com­mu­nity and Health Sciences (CHS) in the Bel­lville CBD.

When mea­sur­ing the years since our re­stric­tion to one cam­pus, it is dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend just how suc­cess­ful our apartheid cre­ators had been in their vi­sion for us.

There are many ex­am­ples of uni­ver­si­ties that are embed­ded within com­mu­ni­ties or oc­cupy a cen­tral sta­tus within a town, like Cam­bridge Univer­sity does in the UK or Har­vard Univer­sity in Bos­ton in the US. Th­ese uni­ver­si­ties and their towns feed off each other and their fates and for­tunes are in­ter­con­nected.

In stark con­trast, UWC has not be­longed to a town since its in­cep­tion. This is there­fore a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for us. Through the very gen­er­ous sup­port of the De­part­ment of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing, we have re­pur­posed the for­mer Jan S Marais Hospi­tal and will have a modern, ad­vanced teach­ing and re­search fa­cil­ity in Bel­lville that will house nurs­ing, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy, phys­io­ther­apy and the School of Nat­u­ral Medicine.

When I re­cently toured the build­ing, it took me back to my days as dean of CHS and the cramped spa­ces on cam­pus that had to suf­fice for treat­ment, learn­ing and prac­ti­cal rooms.

Now, a build­ing that had fallen into dis­re­pair and had mul­ti­ple ten­ants and pur­poses at the time of our pur­chase stands as a mon­u­ment to one of the key goals in UWC’s In­sti­tu­tional Op­er­at­ing Plan – that of be­com­ing an an­chor in­sti­tu­tion in this part of Cape Town.

In 2010, US authors Rita Ax­el­roth and Steve Dubb, in

set out the im­pact of uni­ver­si­ties as an­chor in­sti­tu­tions. Much of what they found at US uni­ver­si­ties that had taken on a cen­tral role within com­mu­ni­ties res­onates deeply with our vi­sion for the CHS build­ing and the broader Bel­lville area.

Ax­el­roth and Dubb re­fer to the mis­sion of an an­chor univer­sity as “to con­sciously and strate­gi­cally ap­ply the in­sti­tu­tion’s long-term, place-based eco­nomic power, in com­bi­na­tion with its hu­man and in­tel­lec­tual re­sources, to bet­ter the wel­fare of the com­mu­nity in which it re­sides”.

This is what we seek to de­velop by mov­ing into Bel­lville. Not only will our stu­dents have highly so­phis­ti­cated learn­ing and teach­ing spa­ces, but we also hope to ex­ten­sively as­sist with and con­trib­ute to the re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion of the CBD while con­nect­ing with the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

As an an­chor in­sti­tu­tion, we plan to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity health cen­tre that will com­ple­ment ex­ist­ing ini­tia­tives such as the den­tal and law ser­vices that we of­fer to com­mu­ni­ties. Th­ese cen­tres play a vi­tal role within com­mu­ni­ties that are usu­ally un­able to af­ford pri­vate den­tal and le­gal fees. The CHS com­mu­nity cen­tre will fol­low this model and give fur­ther life to one of our his­tor­i­cal roles as a univer­sity, of be­ing in ser­vice.

The eco­nomic ben­e­fits of be­ing lo­cated in Bel­lville are not in­signif­i­cant ei­ther. Be­sides the CHS ad­min­is­tra­tive and teach­ing staff, we en­vis­age an an­nual turnover of 1 600 un­der­grad­u­ate and 250 post­grad­u­ate stu­dents be­ing taught at the new fa­cil­ity – num­bers that will help stim­u­late eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity as well as a de­mand for bet­ter ameni­ties and safer pedes­trian routes.

Per­haps this sig­nif­i­cant new trans­port de­mand could sig­nal to the City the im­por­tance of a MyCiTi bus route that would ser­vice three ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties and one tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing col­lege op­er­at­ing in the area.

Our over­ar­ch­ing vi­sion to trans­form the apartheid land­scape that so stub­bornly en­dures goes be­yond the CHS build­ing. It is, we hope, the first step in what will be­come a rolling plan of pos­i­tive change for Bel­lville and the sur­round­ing ar­eas.

This we hope to do in­cre­men­tally as we work with in­dus­try and other stake­hold­ers like the Greater Tyger­berg Part­ner­ship, man­dated by the City of Cape Town to re­vi­talise the Voortrekker Road Cor­ri­dor and the Greater Tyger­berg area into a suc­cess­ful ur­ban node. The power to change things seems so much greater when you en­ter into part­ner­ships with other in­sti­tu­tions. This is ex­actly what we aim to do as an aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion that has re­search, teach­ing, and ser­vice at the core of what we do.

THE Fac­ulty of Com­mu­nity and Health Sciences build­ing in the Bel­lville city cen­tre that will house nurs­ing, oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy, phys­io­ther­apy and the School of Nat­u­ral Medicine.

AN in­te­rior of one of the rooms in the newly opened CHS fa­cil­ity.

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