Unisa Convocation elects Council representative

Mothupi Modiba, an alumnus, clinched the vote by an overwhelming majority at the Unisa Convocation meeting held on 21 November 2020. At 91 votes, he will become a representative of the Unisa Convocation on the Unisa Council.

Voting was held electronically and given an allowance of an hour to allow other agenda items to proceed. Only members who were present at the meeting were allowed to cast their vote through a link provided on the Microsoft Teams platform. The nomination process began in October 2020 where four members were nominated. One withdrew nomination and three members remained. Unisa’s Internal Audit verified the voting process to ensure authenticity.

The speakers and facilitators of the meeting were the new University Registrar, Professor Steward Mothata and his deputy, Professor Joel Baloyi; President of Convocation, Sabelo Mhlungu; and the outgoing Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, Professor Mandla Makhanya.

There are six salient points carried from the VC’s comprehensive report.

The role of alumni and convocation is more pronounced

The report brought to light the disruption of the education sector made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. Makhanya stated that “even though the year 2020 will be distinguished by the disruption that has blindsided the whole world”, a more concerted role for alumni and convocation in fundraising for the university is required.

“The inherent value and capacity that resides in alumni can be leveraged to the benefit of the university,” he said, as they “will contribute to its sustainability and to the security of future students”.

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted society and education severely

The pandemic is a “game changer” affecting the global economy and at the same time severely impacting universities. “Nearly all schools and universities have some or other form of online learning,” said the VC, which exposed around the world the reality between the “haves” and the “have nots”, contributing to the overall social dissatisfaction and discord.

However, the transformation of teaching and learning is happening real time, much to the growing calls for student learning support and the upskilling of staff to fit the learning design against the growing reliance on technology. Technology, especially in the delivery of education, saw “the entire global higher education community looking at ways of ensuring their relevance and sustainability,” he said.

Prof Mandla Makhanya (Principal and VC, Unisa)

Unisa is moving forward

Work is being done to ensure Unisa’s sustainability and relevance. “Moving fully online is being attended to as the institutional priority,” said Makhanya, as he is positive that “Unisa is on its way to arriving at the optimal model for a quality online learning experience”.

According to him, Unisa will incur significant financial ICT-related expenditure for the foreseeable future which is over and above the huge investments Unisa has already made to ensure a swift move to online in line with its response to the pandemic. The advantages that Unisa has are its infrastructure and capacity to be able to move fully to online learning. Future expenditure will be built on that advantage.

Budgetary transformation is required in light of new priorities

More transformation is required in the wake of the pandemic to accommodate budgetary requirements and constraints, as well as new priorities emanating from the state and universities. The government will withhold some of the infrastructure subsidies, while some will probably be channelled to Covid-19 related activities. Unisa would need to adjust and generate income and access resources outside of its traditional subsidy income base. This calls for alumni to play a role in the generation of third-stream income and form win-win collaborations to ensure the future of Unisa.

There are high risks to consider as Unisa moves fully online

The VC notes the inherent risks include the changed working conditions of staff, which will have financial and political impacts. Unisa is required to revise the number and calibre of its students, as over-enrolments will mean loss of subsidy from the Department of Higher Education and Training. Reprioritised and changed Unisa budgets are to be in line with state subsidies to prepare for the financial impact on the university. The ongoing uncertainty propels Unisa to be creative in its thinking as accurate planning and forecasting will be stifled.

Numbers do tell the story

“Unisa remains the largest university in South Africa,” said Makhanya, “with 342 797 student enrolments, giving it more than one third of all public higher education institutions.” The year 2020 saw this number grow to 389 187, exceeding the DHET target by 3,5%, courting a further penalty from the department. A total of 48 906 students graduated in 2019. A total of 973 222 exams was written by students in May/June 2020 and the pass rate increased by 10% compared to 2019.

Professor Puleng Lenka-Bula will take over the helm of the university as VC in January 2021 from Makhanya, who was lauded by convocants for his tenure at Unisa which ends on 31 December 2020. He will, however, remain until April 2021 to ensure a seamless transition.

*By Busisiwe Mahlangu, Communications Coordinator, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/11/23