Acting Deputy Vice Chancellors
Members of the Administrator’s Task Team
Members of the Student Representative Council
Leaders of NEHAWU and NTEU
Academics and members of our professional and support staff
It is a very special honour to welcome you to the University as we commence our 2020 academic year. 2019 was a particularly challenging year for the University as the state deemed is appropriate to place the University under administration – the third time in less than two decades. This was necessitated in the first instance by the collapse of strategic governance that saw the University Council unable to fulfill its many strategic responsibilities of such as the prudent and cost-effective stewardship of University financial resources, approving and monitoring the implementation of the University Strategic Plan, approving the University reports to the DHET, approving he appointment of internal and external auditors and the related audit plans, and approving critical executive appointments. Moreover, in the face of institutional factions contesting for authority and control over University resources, the Council failed to take the necessary actions to bring this to an end. The collapse of strategic functional governance in infrastructure projects, supply chain and procurement, and human resources management, were further reasons for the state to place the university under administration. A detailed account of these matters and their presumed causes, and remedies, will be provided in the final Assessors Report, which we expect to be published by the Government Gazette during the course of this week.
Since the appointment of the Administrator, many of these deficits have been addressed, notably: refocusing of the University management; realignment of executive management structures and institutional accountability; review and approval of the University Strategic Plan 2024; appointment of the internal auditor and the internal audit plan; implementation, for the first time, commencing with P1-5, of the University performance management system; and, critical executive appointments. With regard to the latter, we have also made offers of appointment for two of the three vacant Deputy Vice Chancellor positions, and for the Chief Financial Officer. The appointment of the Executive Director for Operations and Projects at the end of last year is already bearing fruit.
We have also commenced with implementing the recommendations of the various investigations, including holding fully accountable those who have been fingered for disciplinary actions. Staff members have also volunteered many procurement-related corruption tip-offs that we are investigating and which if found to be fact will result in criminal prosecutions. Importantly, former members of staff who had jumped ship once our investigations commenced, should expect us to pursue them for criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture for lost income and corruption.
Our greatest remaining challenges are four-fold: (1) to change our institutional culture of non-performance and endemic procurement-related corruption, and to implement institution-wide accountability and consequence management; (2) to bring financial stability, improve our cashflows and dramatically reduce the R400M student debt burden so that we can vastly improve our academic services to our students (such as filling the more than 100 academic vacancies and appointing hundreds of tutors and senior tutors); (3) to root out the endemic factionalisation of the University that is crippling our culture and our finances, and that is preventing us from focusing on the core academic project and on our students’ academic progress, and which is preventing us from becoming the premier and sought-after University that we should be; and (4) to turn our zero-star student residences quickly and economically into three-star accommodations – this task includes, with active student and staff participation, the cleanliness of our campuses and residences.
With the active participation of our committed Student Representative Council, our late applications and registration processes have been the smoothest in years. Due to the first-time implementation of an online late applications process and a linked active communication programme, we avoided the endless and wasteful queues of previous years. Moreover, this year, working closely with the SRC, our improved registration process was disruption-free. And, while we did have an unexpected shutdown effort by a group of students at the beginning of the academic programme last week, by the end of Tuesday, this was quickly and professionally brought to an end by our protection services. Regrettably, due to the use of force and the intimidation of staff and students, this also resulted in the suspension of the President, Secretary General and Academic Officer of the SRC, and ten further students.
Turning to our student registrations, this is now close to 18,500 or almost 90% of our target enrolment. Strikingly, in respect of first-time entering students, we have as yet not reached our target registration (currently only about 70 per cent of target), principally in the Engineering and Science faculties, the direct result of the very low numbers of students completing high school with at least fifty percent in Mathematics and Physical Sciences. This is particularly worrying and must be addressed if our nation is to benefit at all from the dramatic and new technologies-led reorganization of work. Failure to correct this obvious deficit in public schooling will see our universities turn to institutions that are even more focused on the Humanities and Social Sciences. There are also institutional interventions that will be required if we are to help remedy this matter – such as the urgent introduction of Extended Undergraduate Diploma and Degree programmes.
Allow me therefore to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude and appreciation to the Management Committee for sitting through our daily special registration meetings notably the Registrar and his team; the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, the Executive Deans and their heads of academic departments and support staff; the Acting Dean of Students and the Head of Student Accommodation; the Acting Executive Director for Finance and his NSFAS and credit management teams; and, the Executive Director for Corporate Affairs for helping us secure a smooth, uninterrupted and successful registration period. I also express my sincere gratitude to the SRC for their leadership and partnership in this journey.
Today, also coincides with our Corporate Affairs Division’s official announcement of the #Changevut campaign – this campaign signals the commencement of our journey to re-brand our University, and the Executive Director for Corporate Affairs will soon engage with all University stakeholders to give life and meaning to this project.
Allow me to also congratulate our VUT Football team for its success in the Nedbank Cup this past Saturday. The team beat the more fancied and well-known Premier Division team Golden Arrows in the last 32 and now proceed to the quarter-finals. They have brought us great pride, and we wish them well in their endeavours! Last year our Women’s Basketball team also brought us great honours when they won the Varsity Cup.
I also join my University colleagues in saying farewell to our Chancellor, Dr X.H. Mkhwanazi. You have served us with distinction, and for that we are deeply honoured and most grateful. You have enriched our lives and our journey to greatness. We miss you. We will always remember you. To your grieving family, words cannot take away the pain of their loss. We continue to pray that the Supreme Being, the God of our ancestors, will continue to lighten your journey until you meet again.
Lastly, I now declare that the 2020 Academic Year – the year that opens a new decade – is officially declared open. Let us now role up our sleeves and urgently build our University into the premier technology university that our people of the Vaal, South Africa and beyond deserve. And, may for our students 2020 be a year of great accomplishment – in the lecture halls and laboratories, and in your social and cultural life, as you make friends that will last you a lifetime.
I thank you.