Vice Chancellors Message
This is going to be a highly productive year at the University of Fort Hare. In many ways, we are a University under construction, in the literal as well as the figurative sense. We will be working towards realising our aspirations, as set out in our strategic plan, putting up bricks and mortar structures but also crafting institutions, practices and values to structure and support us on our journey. Foundational to this project of ours is improving the experience of our staff and students, through improvements to our systems, upgrades to our facilities, positive changes to the ways we interact with each and the cultivation of an ethos and culture of high expectations, ethical conduct, and mutual respect. We will be building on the excellent output of 2018, which, the many challenges notwithstanding, signals that we are a University that means business. Last year we graduated 153 PhDs. This is a remarkable achievement and a significant contribution to the national and continental skills trust.
This has been possible only because of an ongoing commitment to growing the depth and breadth of our research. We can see the results, not only in the number of research outputs, but also in the acclaim bestowed upon our most talented researchers, emerging as well as established. We now have 25 rated scholars in our midst. Identifying and growing our research niche areas and ensuring that the quality of our research keeps improving alongside ongoing engagement with the most critical challenges of our era are really important factors that will shape our long‐term trajectory. The University has been growing over the last few years, despite the limits of our infrastructure. This does require a cautious and planned approach to future growth, as outlined in our enrolment plan, which we need to submit to DHET in March. Yet, we are very pleased nonetheless that much of the substantive growth over the last few years has been in our postgraduate student numbers.
A strong postgraduate student cohort is a prerequisite for a university that values research and for which knowledge production is a key aim. The number of partnership agreements we are entering is expanding and these cut across all segments of society, including key role‐players in all sectors. In the Eastern Cape, we have strong and durable partnerships with municipalities, provincial government, traditional authorities, metropolitan councils, SETAS, and research entities. These dense partnerships ground us in place and context and provide us with many resources and social capital without which we would have been impoverished. We have to thank Raymond Mhlaba municipality for the considerable work they have put in to revitalise Alice and we are looking forward to closer cooperation with Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality on spatial planning in relation to our East London campus. We are incredibly proud of the state‐of‐the‐art Phyllis Ntantala Collaborative Library in East London, which was formally opened by Minister Naledi Pandor in October last year. Not only are we collaborating more closely with our two partners – the University of South Africa (Unisa) and Walter Sisulu University (WSU) – but we are also changing the look and feel of our campus and the experience of our students in East London. We have been awarded DHET funding for a student Centre in East London. We will keep staff and students informed on how this project is unfolding. In Alice, we will kick‐off of the year with the construction of Phase Two of the Alice Student Village. The duration of the project will be two years. Decent and dignified student housing provides for an environment in which grit, self‐respect and curiosity can flourish. These are the qualities we like to see in our students. We will also be focusing on securing the necessary funding to upgrade and extend the Alice Library – which is one of the Chancellor’s Projects. At the same time we are finalising a spatial planning framework for Alice, which will be submitted to Council in March.
Our lecture venues, offices and laboratories have been in a state of emergency for years. We will roll out the deferred maintenance project in 2019, which will encompass the main campus in Alice as well as the East London and Bhisho campuses. Undoubtedly, all this construction will be disruptive and messy, but I hope it will also imbue all of us with new energy and commitment. Last year we conducted an extensive and University‐wide governance review. This year will see the systematic implementation of the findings of the governance review, to improve our compliance and accountability and to strengthen the structures and systems that need to be in place to protect our integrity. Linked to improved governance is the need to focus on improving our performance management system in order to give expression to the Council‐adopted consequences framework. Framing all of this is the need for principled and ethical leadership at all levels of the institution. I want to commit myself and senior management in particular to a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment, rape and other forms of gender‐based violence. We will continue to improve our record in terms of our responsiveness and support for victims of rape, gender‐based violence and sexual harassment. We have a firm commitment to revise our rules, improve our processes, and put policies in place to root out the destructive culture that enables GBV and to improve on follow‐through and consequences for those guilty of these offences. The University of Fort Hare has an unusual and irreplaceable location in the history of ideas and the development of higher education institutions on the continent. We have a very important responsibility in the way we keep this history alive and define ourselves in the present era. Anchored in place and context, with an irrepressible outward‐looking orientation, we are very much a part of re‐building society, taking care of students for whom access to University is an immense opportunity and supporting them to excel.
Professor Sakhela Buhlungu Vice‐Chancellor and Principal.