University’s sense of belonging
Faculty of Community Health Sciences in Bellville sees UWC embedded in its community after 58 years
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.