Dear Staff and Students
As we conclude the second week of examinations, I am pleased to inform you that the University's 2017 year-end examination period is progressing smoothly. By the end of Saturday, 18th of November – 97,875 examination papers will have been written – well past the half-way mark. The remaining 65,745 examination papers are scheduled for completion by Tuesday, 28th of November 2017.
I am also pleased to record my sincere appreciation to our students for their excellent response to our call for them to arrive early for their examinations and for their full compliance with the "no bag in venue" policy. Needless to say, the University will continue to maintain its security vigilance in order to ensure that examinations are concluded without any interruption. I encourage our students to remain focused during this period as they work towards achieving their ambitions. I also encourage our academic and support staff to, equally, remain focused on providing the necessary encouragement and support to our students.
You will have noted that President Jacob Zuma has at last made public the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training – also known as the Fees Commission. While we continue to await government's response to this report, the University's view is clear – NSFAS should be expanded within the country's fiscal means and converted to a grant scheme for the poor. With expanded and effective academic support, qualifying students must however complete their qualifications on time. Regarding the matter of the fee increase for 2018, the University's view is that the status quo be maintained. This means that the state subsidises an 8% fee increase for those with family incomes below R600,000 (six hundred thousand rand) per annum. Students with family incomes above R600,000 per annum should pay an 8% fee increase. This would result in 86% of our students qualifying for a state subsidised fee increase. The University is in the process of consulting this matter with Student Representative Council (SRC), and will in due course make an announcement in this regard.
On Monday, Prof Shireen Motala presented her professorial inaugural lecture on which occasion she spoke to the topic "Equity in Education and Education for All: Critical Considerations." Prof Motala observed that while a set of far-reaching finance equity mechanisms have been put in place in schooling, increased fiscal inputs are not translating into performance outcomes. Drawing attention to the recent widespread student protests, Prof Motala said that a sharp focus on equity and redress without support for students who come poorly prepared from the schooling system, has negative implications for quality, limiting the production of high-quality graduates with requisite knowledge and skills.
Also on Monday, the Centre for Anthropological Research hosted the 1st UJ Palaeo-Research Symposium. This Symposium attracted international speakers who included Peter Gärdenfors (Senior Professor of Cognitive Science and member of the Prize Committee in Memory of Alfred Nobel from Lund University in Sweden), John Hawks (Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the USA) and Mattias Jakobsson (Professor of Genetics and Director of SciLife Lab's Ancient-DNA Facility at Uppsala University in Sweden). UJ researchers, students and research associates presented 18 more papers, firmly establishing our footprint in South Africa's exploration towards understanding our human origins.
Congratulations are also due to Prof Leila Patel and her staff at the Centre for Social Development in Africa for their extensive research on children receiving social grants in South Africa. The study, Family contexts, child support grants and child well-being in South Africa, examines the well-being of South Africa's Child Support Grant (CSG). The findings of the study were revealed on Tuesday, 14 November, in a report for UNICEF South Africa and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, which was supported by the European Union. The report notes that, despite the fact that the CSG is designed to support poor households to promote food security and children's well-being, a number of children in South Africa continue to experience hunger and nutritional deficits. It highlights the need for solutions that will accelerate the achievement of child well-being through holistic, appropriate and high impact interventions that can break the cycle of structural disadvantages facing families with young children under the age of eight.
Our SARChI Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, headed by Prof Brenda Schmahmann, is currently convening an exciting international conference on public art: "Troubling Histories: Public Art and Prejudice". Together with Prof Kim Miller (Jane Oxford Keiter Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Art History at Wheaton College in Massachusetts), Prof Schmahmann will launch a new book, Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic President, at the conference. In this lively and timely volume, contributors examine statues and memorials as well as performances, billboards, and other temporal modes of communication in South Africa. In addition, Prof Erika Doss, Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the USA, will present a keynote address, entitled "Taking History to Task: Cultural Vandalism and Memorial Mania". Prof Doss is a highly regarded scholar of public art and monuments. She has published many books, including Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America (2010).
I am pleased to share with you the good news that one of our students, Oluwademilade Fayemiwo, has been selected as a recipient of a doctoral fellowship of €5,000 by the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa initiative. This programme celebrates young female scientists from higher education institutions in Africa. Ms Fayemiwo was selected for her project, "Novel tannin-based adsorbents from green tea for the removal of organic pollutants in oilfield produced water". Warm congratulations!
This Wednesday, I had the privilege to honour the very best of our academic and support staff members at the 11th Vice-Chancellor's Distinguished Awards function. Focused on acknowledging excellence in teaching and research, and going beyond the call of duty, the awards have become a tradition in the University's annual calendar. This year, the recipients of the Most Promising Young Teacher awards are Dr Melissa Card (Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities) and Ms Naiefa Rashied (School of Economics, College of Business and Economics). Dr Wai Sze Leung (Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Faculty of Science) received the award for Teaching Excellence. Prof Philiswa Nomngongo (Department of Applied Chemistry, Faculty of Science) received the award for the Most Promising Researcher of the Year. Prof Vinod Kumar Gupta (Department of Applied Chemistry, Faculty of Science) received the Special Vice Chancellor's Award for Highest Cited Researcher. Prof Ian Dubery (Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science) received the award for the Outstanding Researcher of the Year. And, Ms Daphney Nemakhavhani (Student Finance Division) received the award for Service Beyond the Normal Call of Duty. We are all delighted and inspired by your extraordinary accomplishments, and wish you a very bright future.
I am proud to report that our University's food catering units have been rated as the safest food providers in South Africa, making our kitchens the first among higher education institutions to receive such a sought after rating. The International Standards Certifications (Global) FZ LLC (ISC) awarded the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points Food Safety Management system certification to the Madibeng Kitchen, the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Studies (JIAS), Design Café and the School of Tourism and Hospitality Main Kitchen. Congratulations to each one of our colleagues who have made this accomplishment possible.
Towards the end of November, the UJ African Centre for DNA Barcoding, the International Barcode of Life Project and the Department of Environmental Affairs will host the 7th International Barcode of Life Conference in Skukuza. This is the first time that the conference will be held on the African continent, and it will place special emphasis on the evolutionary origins, biogeography and conservation of African flora and fauna. It coincides with the launch of the LAB-IN-A-BOX, a portable lab with major applications to wildlife crime and the detection of invasive species. Congratulations and best wishes to all colleagues who have made this possible.
Recently, the University Council announced two Executive Leadership Group appointments. Please allow me to congratulate Dr Nolitha Vukuza on her appointment as Senior Executive Director in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, and Ms Pindiwe Gida as the Executive Director of Human Resources and Transformation. We wish them fruitful and fulfilling employment at UJ.
Finally, earlier this week, I had the occasion to chair my very last Senate meeting – that august body of professors and heads of schools and departments charged with securing excellence in teaching, learning and internationalisation as well as accountable academic freedom and institutional autonomy. For me it continues to be a great honour to serve my colleagues, and to serve our University with them. It has been simply amazing what we have been able, together, to accomplish over these last 12 years to elevate ourselves and in turn our University to the international status for excellence that it now enjoys. I am also deeply grateful to senators for the many generous and moving tributes shared with me on this occasion.
With my very best wishes,
Professor Ihron Rensburg
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of Johannesburg