Sunday Times

Long walk to peace on cam­pus

- By PREGA GOVEN­DER College · Higher Education · Free State · Cape Town · Africa · Pretoria · Cape Peninsula University of Technology

● When Chris Nh­lapo tells his stu­dents that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble, he can back it up with ex­pe­ri­ence.

He was a late starter, go­ing to school for the first time at the age of nine. It was a farm school 15km from where he lived in the small Free State town of Paul Roux. His par­ents were re­luc­tant to send him to school be­cause it was so far away, but even­tu­ally he went, walk­ing there and back each day.

He dared not take a short cut across farms. “It was very dif­fi­cult … It was dur­ing 1974 and 1975,” he said.

Now Nh­lapo heads the Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy. The 52-year-old doc­tor of sci­ence took up the post in July.

“I tell my stu­dents that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble,” he said. The univer­sity has al­ready boldly done so. In 2013 it launched Africa’s first nano-satel­lite, ZACube1. In De­cem­ber it will launch an­other of these 10kg satel­lites, ZACube2, which will carry a cam­era to de­tect for­est and veld fires.

Nh­lapo joined CPUT as deputy vice-chan­cel­lor for re­search, in­no­va­tion and part­ner­ships in Fe­bru­ary 2008. Be­fore that he’d spent four years as the man­ager of in­sti­tu­tional re­search de­vel­op­ment at the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion in Pre­to­ria.

He speaks proudly of the calm at CPUT now fol­low­ing the vi­o­lent FeesMustFa­ll protests that led to build­ings and ve­hi­cles be­ing torched and dam­aged in the past.

Nh­lapo be­lieves one of the rea­sons for the peace at CPUT was the ex­clu­sion of stu­dents who were mem­bers of the stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil be­cause of their poor aca­demic per­for­mances.

“You can’t spend 10 years and you haven’t passed first year and yet you are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the SRC. It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

He said the pol­icy of ex­clu­sion based on poor aca­demic per­for­mance was ap­plied rig­or­ously from last year.

“Some of these stu­dents were do­ing a four-year master’s pro­gramme but did not even have a re­search topic. The mo­tive was not re­ally study­ing but some­thing else.

“One of the so­lu­tions is in­cul­cat­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our build­ings. It should not be easy for a stu­dent to throw a petrol bomb at a build­ing,” he said.

Al­though he spoke about plans for smart teach­ing and learn­ing, smart re­search tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion and in­cor­po­rat­ing tech­nol­ogy in teach­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, Nh­lapo em­pha­sised build­ing “one­ness and to­geth­er­ness” within the in­sti­tu­tion.

“FeesMustFa­ll cre­ated a lot of di­vi­sion be­tween staff and stu­dents and the first prize is to build re­la­tions with labour, with staff and with stu­dents.

“We were in the news for all the wrong rea­sons but we want to re­claim the glory days,” he said.

One of the ini­tia­tives is a re­union of the class of ’75 this week­end that will be at­tended by CPUT’s first vice-chan­cel­lor, Franklin Sonn.

There are 34,000 stu­dents and 842 aca­demics at CPUT.

Al­most 28% of aca­demics have a doc­tor­ate and the univer­sity wants to in­crease this to 42%.

“We have made huge strides in trans­form­ing our aca­demics to en­sure they have the ap­pro­pri­ate qual­i­fi­ca­tions.”

Aca­demics who are pub­lish­ing re­search in jour­nals at CPUT are in their early 40s, which bodes well for the cre­ation of a new gen­er­a­tion of aca­demics.

“The old co­hort will be re­tir­ing and we are us­ing that op­por­tu­nity when they re­tire to bring [through] the young ones be­cause they are re­ally ac­tive in terms of re­search.”

He said the in­sti­tu­tion’s teach­ing was strong, but re­search out­put was still a chal­lenge.

One of the so­lu­tions is in­cul­cat­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our build­ings. It should not be easy for a stu­dent to throw a petrol bomb at a build­ing.”

Pro­fes­sor Chris Nh­lapo

 ??  ?? Chris Nh­lapo
Chris Nh­lapo

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