Getting To Know Dr Nthabi Taole-Mjimba...Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Partnerships & Innovation

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Dr Nthabi Taole-Mjimba, the new deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Partnerships and Innovation (DVC-RPI) is officially in seat. She joined the UFH on 1 July, bringing along two decades’ wealth of experience in the national system of innovation, including higher education, research councils, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector.

Before joining the UFH, she held the position of Director: Research and Innovation at the University of Pretoria, where she played a key role in providing strategic direction for the research, innovation and internationalisation portfolio of the university. 

Dr Taole-Mjimba shared her plans for her new role with ThisWeek@FortHare.

PLEASE SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Professional

I have been in the research and innovation management space for most of my professional life. As a young professional, I had the opportunity of working on information systems in both the telecommunication and library environments. I have also worked in senior management positions in the two research councils, namely the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the National Research Foundation. This experience sharpened my systems thinking skills through leading a number of consensus studies that championed the use of evidence-based policy and practice in state matters in the case of ASSAf, and leading the national DSI-NRF Centres of Excellence programme at the NRF.

Personal Life

I enjoy close relationships with members of my nuclear and extended families. Besides being a daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt and cousin, I have always also been surrounded by people whom I consider family because of the nature of the relationships we have. These include mentors, spiritual leaders and friends whom I met in both social and workspaces. 

Hobbies and Interests

I like travelling and sightseeing. I have been fortunate to travel to many parts of the world and appreciated their beauty and different cultures. I also like walking for leisure, especially in natural and scenic environments.

Further, I also make time to read books on personal development and leadership. Currently, I am reading The Spirit of Leadership: Cultivating the Attributes that Influence Human Action by Myles Munroe.

                           

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO COME TO THE UNIVERSITY OF FORT HARE?

Contribution is key to my decision to be in this space. I was motivated by the University’s intention to grow its research and innovation profile. As you may know, focus on research, partnerships and innovation at the level of DVC is new in the history of UFH. I want to be part of the community that will take this great university to greater heights in those areas.

Having worked in similar systems elsewhere, I intend to use my experience to contribute towards building and growing this very important portfolio,  right here at Fort Hare.  This university has nurtured several great African leaders and I wish to contribute towards the nurturing of the next generation of great African leaders in research and innovation. Of course, I do recognise that the context is different, hence I always emphasise the need to bring in collective wisdom in this endeavour.

WHAT ARE THE KEY FOCUS AREAS IN PORTFOLIO?

The portfolio comprises the following entities:

  • Govan Mbeki Research and Development Centre (GMRDC);
  • UFH Libraries;
  • International Office; and
  • Research Institutes, centres and units.

The main function of this position is to provide institutional leadership in creating a new and dynamic, efficient and well-functioning research and innovation portfolio. The focus areas include strengthening and growing the research and innovation profile of the university, increasing research capacity, output and impact in both quality and quantity terms. We will also seek to increase the university’s postgraduate student capacity and enhance both local and international partnerships. In addition, UFH Libraries will receive special attention as they remain critical in providing a sustainable relevant information resource base to support teaching, learning and research.

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO EXECUTING KEY RESPONSIBILITIES?

First, I want to understand how all the entities under my portfolio operate. I have already started holding meetings with relevant senior management in this regard. Soon, I will also be engaging faculty leadership through various structures. Despite the ongoing orientation, there are a number of tasks that I have to perform immediately which will give a clearer picture of the context within which I operate.

Second, through the engagements mentioned above, I intend to consolidate my plan of action by addressing the identified gaps simultaneously with enhancing areas of strength. The new strategic plan, which is nearing its completion, will be the anchor of what we do.

Third, we will work on restructuring the GMRDC, which currently houses the university’s research management and administrative services. The renewed focus on research and innovation brings with it some capacity demands which are not adequately addressed in the current set-up.

SO FAR, WHICH AREAS HAVE YOU IDENTIFIED AS POCKETS OF EXCELLENCE WHICH ONES REQUIRE STRENGTHENING?

Pockets of Excellence

I have been in this position for only three weeks and I have had an opportunity to meet and engage with both the executive and some colleagues in senior management. I have noted a great sense of collegiality and political will to take the university to greater heights. One should also acknowledge the university’s role in ensuring that teaching and learning as well research continue with minimum glitches during the COVID-19 pandemic era. This has been a trying time for all sectors and higher education in particular, and UFH continues to make strides in providing appropriate virtual platforms for its community.

UFH also has very strong partnerships locally and internationally and this is an area that will be increasingly important, especially in this era of shrinking budgets.

Challenges

In my portfolio, I have noted some gaps in policies as well as the relevant guidelines. Research and innovation policies are critical in providing guidance to researchers and professional staff in performing related tasks and can be used  as points of reference. These gaps will have to be addressed in line with the renewed emphasis on creating a research focused university.

Another area of concern is the need to review some research entities. Without regular reviews, we may miss growth opportunities that come with reflection and scrutiny.

I have also noted cross-cutting challenges that are systemic in nature, which I believe may require support from different internal stakeholders. This could also be strengthened by refocusing on a change in institutional culture. This will bring in  a need to revisit the related set of values.

LASTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR ASPIRATIONS  FOR THE UNIVERSITY AS IT SETS OFF ON ITS JOURNEY OF A DECADE OF RENEWAL (2020 to 2030).  WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON HOW TO REACH THE ENVISAGED DESTINATION?   

In this decade of renewal, we want to build this great institution to be become a sustainable African university that prides itself in quality and excellent teaching, learning and research; a university that is a leader in providing solutions to societal challenges.

UFH must reclaim its position of being a university of choice for South Africa’s and indeed Africa’s aspiring leaders in research, business, politics and other fields.

I believe the key to [reaching the envisaged destination] is to remain people-centred and to work together with our partners, locally and globally to ensure that we give expression to the vision of the university.