11 February 2022 | Story Nonsindiso Qwabe | Photo Stephen Collett
Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor shared his vision for 2022 during the Official Opening on Friday 11 February 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to rethink and re-imagine higher education, and how the University of Free State in particular, can contribute towards a more inclusive, cohesive, fairer, and sustainable future. Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, addressed staff in his official opening speech on the Bloemfontein Campus on Friday 11 February 2022.

The engaged university of the future is one that enjoys academic freedom and institutional autonomy while engaging with the communities it serves, he said.

“We must be enquiry-driven, and at the same time be learning- and community-focused.  We must be professionally attuned, but humanely informed, taking our global responsibilities seriously.”

Reflecting on the pandemic years

Prof Petersen said the resilience shown by staff and students alike during the immensely challenging years of the COVID-19 pandemic was impressive. The key focus for 2021 was to ensure the successful completion of the academic year without leaving any student or staff member behind.

Some successes for 2021 include:
• The undergraduate student success rate increased by close to 5%.
• Improvements in student success, staff development, and quality assurance.
• Infrastructure developments are on track.
• Institutional governance is in place.
The following are either already completed or nearing completion:
• Digitalisation Plan for the institution
• Flexible Human Resources model
• Revised Internationalisation approach
• Multi-Campus Management Model
• Collaboration and co-creation with different sectors of the economy (Centre for Digital Futures)
The seven Vice-Chancellor (VC) Projects have been completed and are now mainstreamed in the normal business of the university.

“Against the background of the UFS Strategic Plan (2018-2022), the Integrated Transformation Plan (which was revised through a mid-term review), seven VC’s Strategic Projects, the Institutional Multi-Stakeholder Group, and the Institutional Risk Register, the focus of 2021 was on ‘delivery and on re-imaging what is possible and doing it’ – and I can say that we have achieved much!” Prof Petersen shared.

Leading the way

“We have increased the number of NRF-rated researchers, our researchers have demonstrated excellence in various areas, achieved international recognition for these efforts, and participated in international research and funding consortia,” Prof Petersen said.

In relation to student governance and well-being, much has been achieved. Faculty councils have been established, student representation has been increased in most of the governance structures at the university, student safety (on and off campus) has received much attention, and policies and guidelines related to protest, discipline, engagement, and student wellness were finalised and are being implemented.

Setting the pace for the year ahead

The UFS Strategy (2018-2022) will end this year, and Prof Petersen said the process of engaging on the design of a new vision and strategic plan for the university as from 2023 has started. The development of a new vision and strategic plan for the university will be fully consultative. 

“The focus of the vision will be on: Visibility and Impact. The vision, and subsequently the strategic plan, will be framed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I can assure you that we will continue with engagement in a sphere of respect and tolerance for different views – always focusing on fairness and social justice.”

“We will ensure that diversity in all its facets is fully implemented at the UFS,” he said.

In closing, Prof Petersen said the university will be taking on an outward focus and will be looking for opportunities to project its strength and capabilities to the outside world.

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