WORKSHOP REAFFIRMS SENATE’S COMMITMENT TO DRIVE ACADEMIC AND RESEARCH EXCELLENCE AT VUT
18 August 2023
Like all public universities in South Africa, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Senate remains one of the main governance structures of the institution. This, alongside Council, the Institutional Forum (IF) and the Student Representative Council (SRC) as stipulated by the Higher Education Act of 1997.
To reflect on its core mandate of driving academic and research excellence at VUT, the institution’s Senate convened a workshop from 17 – 18 August 2023 at the VUT Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park in Sebokeng. In addition to the more than seventy (70) Senators, the workshop was also attended by representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Council on Higher Education (CHE).
In his opening remarks on the first day the workshop, VUT Chairperson of Council, Prof Mandla Radebe started by giving an overview of the Soth African higher education landscape, drawing to the attention of the more than seventy (70) senators, the intricate fabric of challenges that confront the sector in its broader sense. Highlighting some of the key events that have unfolded in the past few months, he said the sector is currently marked by complexity and multifaceted difficulties, adding that the temporal context of the workshop is timely as it greatly coincides with a period of considerable transition within the landscape.
Before officially declaring the workshop open, Prof Radebe reminded attendees of the relationship between Council and Senate, expressly emphasising that the two, along with other governance structures, must co-exist in a symbiotic function. “If anyone of these structures is malfunctioning, then, as day follows night, without any shadow of a doubt, the entire chain will be adversely affected,” he said. He further said that this relationship is not dependent on the whims and aspirations of individuals’ interest but crucially, is designed to ensure that democratic practices exist for the good health of the institution. He concluded that co-operative governance at institutional level is premised on the principle that no single stakeholder, be it management, academic staff or students, can take sole responsibility for determining an institution’s transformation agenda. “It is precisely on the basis of the principle of co-operative governance that our relationship as Council with Senate is anchored.”
With the tone of the workshop now set, Dr Philia Vukea, the Deputy Director: Institutional Support & Sector Liaison at DHET took to the podium to give a keynote address. On what falls within the purview of senate, Dr Vukea gave a bird’s eye view of the governance of higher education institution in South Africa – touching on Principles underpinning co-operative governance at systemic level, as well legislative frameworks.
Dr Vukea told VUT senators that one of their fundamental responsibilities that they should never compromise is that of protecting the role of a University with reference to academic freedom and academic autonomy, with due regard to its public accountability. She further said that promotion of an institutional culture of high academic and ethical standards should be at the core of what they do.
Another speaker of the day was Dr Britta Zawada, the Director: Institutional Audits at CHE whose presentation was titled: “Senate’s academic governance mandate and its role as a driver of sustainability strategy”. While echoed the sentiments of other speakers of senate being the custodian of the institution’s academic project, she also highlighted that community engagement as part of academic activities.
On sustainability of institution, she emphasised the important relationship between good governance and sustainability. She said, institutions should strive to balance various demands to create a future within resource limitations. However, Dr Zawada cautioned that more often than not, we think of resources as only finically resources, adding that they stretch far beyond that. “Institutions should galvanise all other resources, including concrete infrastructure resources and social resources.”
Acting Vice Chancellor and Principal, Dr Dan Mokoena also weighed in, taking senators through what he termed ‘the VUT Storyline’ over the past few years. Notably, he said despite the disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic, the VUT academic programme was never compromised – all thanks to the senate that was steadfast in their commitment to the teaching and learning agenda of the university.
Dr Mokena also said the ‘dark times’ of the university’s administration era had little to nothing to do with the academic wing, adding that it was purely a governance collapse. However, he said, although it is not an overnight project, the university is steadily returning to glory days, saying that the first critical phase of stabilisation is well track.
The second and last day of the workshop saw the three deputy vice chancellors (DVCs) at VUT: Prof Maggi Linington, Dr Speech Nelana and Prof Raymond Mabuza giving presentations on strategic mandate of their respective portfolios: Teaching-Learning and Quality Promotions; Research, Innovation, Commercialisation and Internationalization; and Resources & Planning. Dr Sibusiso Mchunu, the Executive Director of Student Support Services at VUT also gave a presentation on “The importance of recognition of Interdependencies”, while Dr Mokoena reflected on the VUT Governance Framework.