Vice-Chancellor's Graduation Speech - March 2012

 Vice-Chancellor's Graduation Speech - March 2012

On behalf of the Council and the Executive Management and staff of UJ, it gives me great pleasure to
welcome our University of Johannesburg graduands and their guests to this graduationceremony.

May I also take this opportunity to express my most sincere congratulations to our graduands. Your accomplishments - the fruits of years of toil - is a significant achievement which would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of your parents, spouses, friends and sponsors, who sit proudly in our audience today. May I also express my sincere appreciation to the staff of UJ, for assisting you on your educational and life journey during these defining years, and for continuing to make this university a place of excellence and fine achievements.

University education, intellectual endeavour and world-class educational facilities are not only the preserve of the rich, but of all our citizens, including the poor and marginalised. This is a proud cornerstone of the University of Johannesburg and its founding institutions: we are determined that this university, reflecting the name that it carries, will always strive to be diverse, inclusive and cosmopolitan, serving all South Africans.  

We are all pleased that the University of Johannesburg is excelling well beyond expectations. Our programmes enjoy full accreditation by the Council of Higher Education, and we continue to place emphasis on academic excellence and the nurturing of personal values and ethics that will become the standards of our communities, government and corporate South Africa. Just weeks ago, at the Academic Opening and First Year’s Welcome we concurred with Lewis (2006) who writes in his landmark book on Harvard University, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education, that universities must strive to become, “wells from which imagination, invention and creativity are drawn to the benefit of society, where the future leaders learn the lessons, good and bad, that universities teach; where students’ discoveries and innovations will be the source of national prosperity in the coming centuries; where students.” We trust that we have made a significant contribution to your journey in respect of these matters.

This is our 8th academic year – and also the 109th year of the founding of the Technikon Witwatersrand as the Transvaal Technical Institute in 1903; the 44th year of the founding of the Rand Afrikaans Universiteit in 1968; and, the 30th year of the founding of Vista University in 1982. During these founding years UJ is already making a remarkable contribution to our intellectual and professional capabilities, and to the very high skilled needs of the economy. Last year, for example, during our Autumn and Spring graduation ceremonies, 10,631 students graduated from our nine academic faculties across our four campuses. This year, a total of 7,614 qualifications will have been awarded this once the Autumn graduation sessions have been concluded at the end of March.  This is possible because our student success rates have now reached a credible 78.6% - which is the result of the collective efforts of all our academics, tutors, support staff and hard working students.

There are of course many factors driving UJ’s growing success now and into the future. Given that research remain vital to national and global prosperity, and is an important indicator of the stature of a university, we have made considerable investments in research broadly and within selected research centres. This has in turn attracted some of the country’s leading minds and top postgraduate students. Our National Research Foundation rated academics has increased by a third to 100, and we have also invested significantly in developing the next generation of academics to ensure the sustainability of our efforts. As a result we have doubled our accredited research output within 5 years, well ahead of our 2015 target, with more than 60% now published in international journals. These efforts have not gone unnoticed, and UJ has increased its distinguished National Research Foundation Chairs from zero to seven.

We continue to improve our teaching, learning and research facilities so as to create the very best environment for our academics and students, such as the state of the art revamped and expanded Soweto Campus completed during 2010. With work planned to start in the second half of this year, our Doornfontein Campus is next in line for a major revamp and expansion with the focus on developing world-class Engineering and Health Sciences.

We also continue to have internationally prominent programmes such as accounting, finance, industrial design, educational psychology and ICT, mining, radiography, psychology, social work, sociology, banking law, marketing management, logistics management, information technology, biochemistry, chemical technology and geology.

UJ has also become a leader in promoting robust public intellectual engagements. Its academics are widely published and referenced, both locally and internationally. Equally, few institutions can match the overall UJ student experience, be it through Arts and Culture offerings or in the sporting arena where UJ continues to excel. 2011 was a particularly successful year for UJ Sport. At the South African Sports Awards, for example, UJ students scooped Sportswoman of the Year, and Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability.

Our 47,500 full- and part-time students come from all parts of South Africa, and we also have 2,500 international students from 52 countries. And, the university has an outstanding national and international reputation, and a high level of public confidence: last year UJ was for the third year running ranked second only after the University of Cape Town in the Sunday Times Generation Next university brand study among 8-22 year olds. This study also saw UJ recognised for everything that first-rate universities stand for: academic excellence, cultural diversity, global credibility, stature and freedom.

Seven years later, and we are confident that UJ is well on its way to achieving the vision set out in the establishment of this unique, comprehensive university. During the course of this year, UJ will be revising and renewing its vision, mission and values statement, and we hope that you will find time to make a contribution in this regard. The draft vision currently under discussion is: An international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future.
The draft mission under discussion is: Inspiring its community to transform and serve humanity through innovation and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge. While the values under discussion are framed by the moving concepts: Conversation, Imagination, Regeneration and Ethical Foundation.

One of the results of our success is the annual increase in student applications to UJ. Applications for admission into UJ for 2012 reached 105,300 for 13,000 places, and included late applications that were received early January. Following the tragic stampede leading to the death of Mrs Gloria Sekwane, herself a UJ graduate, during the early January late applications process, the university has decided that it would for the next three years still receive late applications but only via the use of technology. These technologies would include the internet, an advanced call centre and mobile telephones where a shortened applications process would be utilised.
The tragedy that unfolded outside our Bunting Road Campus gate is a cruel reminder to all of us of how valued a place at UJ is. It reminds us too of just how desperate our young people are for a quality post-school education. As graduates who have received a university education we challenge you to remember that tragedy, and to make a difference in your community such as providing career guidance and support. 

As graduates you have had the honour of studying at a fine university, one that deservedly commands an enviable academic reputation. We hope that during your time here you have learnt the valuable lesson of rethinking education – in all of its facets. For our part, we have tried to instil a passion for the lifelong process of reinventing yourself and have tried to impart the values we hold dear. You are now part of an elite group of the graduate population of South Africa and beyond that have obtained academic or career focused qualifications in a higher education environment that mirrors the democratic ideals of our world.

We hope that during your time here with us you have experienced independence in decision-making that has made you the woman or man that you are today. That during your years at UJ you found yourself immersed in a multi-cultural environment that challenged and inspired you. That you forged friendships strong enough to last you a lifetime; gained skill sets that you will build on continuously; and take away unforgettable experiences and memories.

Today, as you receive your qualifications, you will hold in your hands the key to the door of your future professional success. This is YOUR achievement but you should always remember the sacrifices others have made to ensure that you stand here today. As future leaders, I trust that the leadership qualities that you demonstrate in the future will reflect the values that you have nurtured during your years at UJ.

Values which ascribe to the highest levels of academic distinction, academic freedom and accountability; values that encourage innovation, individuality and collective effort.  And, values that strive to promote integrity and respect for diversity and human dignity. Notice a world beyond yourself and put these values into practice by serving the less fortunate members of society. Through service, citizenship is meaningful and dignified.  Where there is inequality and injustice, we need you to work for opportunity and equity. At a time of so much uncertainty and cynicism, let us work even harder to nurturing confidence, hope, optimism and trust as we build our communities and nations, as we nurture our collective competence, and as we challenge and drive out corruption in public service, and in private and corporate life.

Today is your day, to remember, to celebrate and cherish. No doubt the parties will extend long into the night and there will be much merriment. You have earned it and we wish you a wonderful and joyful day of celebration.

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