A South African chal­lenge em­braced

‘There is di­ver­sity in terms of race, money, gen­der and re­li­gion. We try to ad­dress this di­ver­sity so that stu­dents and staff members can live to­gether in har­mony’

CityPress - - Voices -

Not ev­ery­one likes change. But North­West Univer­sity (NWU) has em­braced it – and there’s been a change of heart, mind and body.

But to get to this point meant chang­ing its statute and its strat­egy. The univer­sity had to trans­form and po­si­tion it­self into a uni­tary in­sti­tu­tion of su­pe­rior aca­demic ex­cel­lence, fo­cused on and committed to so­cial jus­tice.

NWU is unique. It has a foot­print in two prov­inces – North West and Gaut­eng – with ru­ral, semi-ru­ral and ur­ban cam­puses, a di­verse staff and stu­dent body, and a unique ap­proach to lan­guage.

Vice-chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Dan Kg­wadi, who took up his post in 2014, has played a ma­jor part in chang­ing the univer­sity’s strat­egy and, par­tic­u­larly, in im­ple­ment­ing the changes.

The univer­sity was formed in 2004 as part of the gov­ern­ment’s plan to trans­form higher ed­u­ca­tion. In NWU’s case this saw the merger of a his­tor­i­cally white univer­sity, Potchef­stroom Univer­sity for Chris­tian Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, with a his­tor­i­cally black univer­sity, the for­mer Univer­sity of North­West. This com­ing to­gether to form NWU was a strong sym­bolic act of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and na­tion build­ing.

How­ever, the model of the univer­sity was fed­eral. Each of the three cam­puses – in Potchef­stroom, Mahikeng and the Vaal Tri­an­gle – worked in a semi-au­ton­o­mous way and they were vir­tu­ally in­de­pen­dent of one an­other, set­ting sep­a­rate ex­ams, us­ing dif­fer­ent text­books and study guides.

What needed to hap­pen was for the univer­sity to change di­rec­tion and be­come a uni­tary in­sti­tu­tion. The strat­egy 2015 to 2025 was the start of that process. And it has been a ma­jor shift, in­volv­ing trans­for­ma­tion and re­struc­tur­ing. For ex­am­ple, when the cam­puses were semi-au­ton­o­mous there were 15 deans. Now there are eight. The ex­ec­u­tive deans are no longer deans of Potchef­stroom, Mahikeng or the Vaal, but of NWU.

In­stead of hav­ing two busi­ness schools – at Potchef­stroom and Mahikeng – of­fer­ing two dif­fer­ent MBAs, there is now only one NWU MBA, wher­ever you study. This ap­plies to de­grees in all eight fac­ul­ties.

Kg­wadi was brought in to ac­cel­er­ate and be­gin im­ple­ment­ing the changes. In­stead of hav­ing three cam­puses, each with its own fac­ul­ties, un­der the new dis­pen­sa­tion, the three cam­puses now have the same fac­ul­ties, text­books and mod­ules. Stu­dents now write the same ex­ams for a mod­ule across all cam­puses, en­sur­ing the qual­ity is the same. The cam­puses, in­stead of be­ing in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ties, have be­come sim­ply dif­fer­ent sites of de­liv­ery for the same qual­ity of learn­ing ex­cel­lence.

As Kg­wadi, who is pas­sion­ate and ex­cited about the new-look NWU, put it: “We are now able to say the prod­uct of the NWU is the same through­out.”

Us­ing com­puter terms, he says the “hard­ware” was putting to­gether the strat­egy, trans­form­ing and re­struc­tur­ing, while the “soft­ware” was align­ing the pro­gramme to ensure the same mod­ule at all three cam­puses would be the same.

Kg­wadi says part of the univer­sity’s trans­for­ma­tion was ap­point­ing a di­verse team of deans: “Di­verse in terms of gen­der, race and age. For con­ti­nu­ity there’s a very good spread be­tween deans and deputy deans, which will ensure the univer­sity re­mains sus­tain­able.”

High­lights of the past year in­cluded “pop­u­lat­ing the strat­egy by get­ting the pro­grammes to align aca­dem­i­cally”.

“We had to ensure there was so­cial co­he­sion and eq­uity. It’s a South African chal­lenge – uni­ver­si­ties are a mi­cro­cosm of so­ci­ety. The univer­sity has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to take corrective ac­tion. Its pro­grammes must ad­dress so­ci­etal chal­lenges,” Kg­wadi says. “Our fo­cus on so­cial co­he­sion is a means of ad­dress­ing that. Our pro­grammes en­cour­age in­te­gra­tion.

“Our stu­dents come from di­verse so­cial and eco­nomic back­grounds. They also come from dif­fer­ent lan­guage back­grounds. The four ma­jor lan­guage groups are English, Afrikaans, Setswana and Se­sotho.

“But so­cial co­he­sion does not stop there. There is di­ver­sity in terms of race, money, gen­der and re­li­gion. We try to ad­dress this di­ver­sity so that stu­dents and staff members can live to­gether in har­mony.”

One of the high­lights this year was get­ting the new lan­guage pol­icy ap­proved by the univer­sity coun­cil. “It’s an in­clu­sive pol­icy so that a stu­dent from any lan­guage back­ground must not feel ex­cluded in or out­side the class­room. We have mul­ti­modes of pre­sen­ta­tion. If a lec­ture is given in one lan­guage, there’s a trans­la­tion into other lan­guages. Head­sets pro­vide si­mul­ta­ne­ous trans­la­tions and if classes are very big we can run par­al­lel lec­tures.”

Kg­wadi says: “When deal­ing with lan­guage we have to de­politi­cise the is­sue by en­sur­ing we are as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble. No lan­guage has pref­er­ence or as­sumes a priv­i­lege for one par­tic­u­lar group.”

At present ex­ams are set pre­dom­i­nantly in English and Afrikaans, but there are al­ready plans in place to in­clude Setswana and Se­sotho.

An­other high­light was that NWU’s com­mit­ment to ex­cel­lence in teach­ing and learn­ing was recog­nised in in­ter­na­tional rat­ing re­sults. Higher ed­u­ca­tion net­work­ing com­pany Quacquarelli Sy­monds (QS) awarded NWU an over­all four-star rat­ing.

“This four-star rat­ing con­firms the univer­sity’s progress in re­al­is­ing its dream of be­com­ing an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised learn­ing in­sti­tu­tion in Africa.”

NWU scored five stars in the teach­ing, em­ploy­a­bil­ity, in­no­va­tion and fa­cil­i­ties cat­e­gories. It was also ranked among the top 5% of uni­ver­si­ties glob­ally in the QS sys­tem.

This year the univer­sity for­mu­lated a dec­la­ra­tion on the de­coloni­sa­tion of the cur­ricu­lum, en­sur­ing fac­ul­ties align their teach­ing plans, re­search and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment. It states that NWU seeks to be a so­cially re­spon­sive and rel­e­vant in­sti­tu­tion that un­der­stands its obli­ga­tions to ac­cel­er­ate trans­for­ma­tion and cre­ate an in­clu­sive and rig­or­ous aca­demic cul­ture.

“We are also one of the found­ing members of the BRICS Net­work Univer­sity. Our re­search en­ti­ties are aligned, we are in­volved in joint ven­tures, sign­ing 20 mem­o­ran­dums of un­der­stand­ing in the past year. This adds to our in­ter­na­tional fo­cus, en­sur­ing we aren’t left be­hind par­tic­u­larly, but not ex­clu­sively, with the Brics coun­tries [Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa].”

Kg­wadi says the univer­sity was rel­a­tively sta­ble dur­ing the #FeesMustFall is­sues. This year 14 800 stu­dents were granted bur­saries by the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme, com­pared with the 6 200 of 2016.

With 72 000 stu­dents, both con­tact and dis­tance, NWU is the sec­ond-largest univer­sity af­ter Unisa.

With the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion loom­ing, NWU re­alises the im­por­tance of keep­ing pro­grammes rel­e­vant and knows cur­ricu­lums will need to be con­stantly trans­formed.

NWU be­lieves pur­ple is the colour of suc­cess. As part of its re­brand­ing and trans­for­ma­tion, all cam­puses now sport the colour pur­ple. Kg­wadi grins as he points to his pur­ple tie.

We had to ensure there was so­cial co­he­sion and eq­uity. It’s a South African chal­lenge – uni­ver­si­ties are a mi­cro­cosm of so­ci­ety. The univer­sity has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to take corrective ac­tion. Its pro­grammes must ad­dress so­ci­etal chal­lenges

PHOTO: JO TYLER

MAIN MAN Vice-chan­cel­lor of North-West Univer­sity says the main fo­cus is aca­demic ex­cel­lence, a big part of which is em­brac­ing is­sues of so­cial jus­tice

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