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18 April 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin

The Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice IRSJ) has initiated a Social Justice Week at the University of the Free State (UFS), which started on Friday 12 April  until Wednesday 17 April 2019. 

Ten key events took place during the week. It ranged from dialogues, workshops, talk shows, debates, and interactive displays and events on issues of multilingualism and diversity, social innovation, engaged scholarship, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, gender sensitisation, sexual consent, sexual preparedness, universal access, disability, anti-discrimination, and security.

There was also a round-table discussion on 17 April 2019 with various UFS stakeholders on off-campus student security as well as an inter-institutional discussion on the same topic. The UFS Debating Society will take on the topic of the UFS Language Policy, while Olga Barends from the Free State Centre for Human Rights will host a dialogue on sexual consent.

The IRSJ has also designed and implemented SOJO-VATION: Social Innovation/ Social Change, which strives to create a foundational platform where ideas of social justice, innovation, and engaged scholarship at the UFS and in society can be hosted. SOJO-VATION partners with the Office for Student Leadership, Development, and Community Engagement.

The collaborating partners for the Social Justice Week includes various UFS stakeholders such as the Sasol library, the Gender and Sexual Equity Office, UFS Protection Services, the Free State Centre for Human Rights, the Student Representative Council (SRC), the Office for Student Leadership Development, Kovsie Innovation, GALA, the FFree State Centre for Human Rights, SRC Associations, the Office for Student Governance, Kovsie Innovate, Start-Up-Grind, EVC, EBL, Community Engagement, the Institutional Transformation Plan (ITP) Dialogues Office, Residence Dialogues, UFS Debating Society, Debate Afrika!, the Center for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS), and the Gateway Office. 

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In January 1, 2003, the Qwa-Qwa campus of the University of the North (Unin) was incorporated into the University of the Free State (UFS).
2003-02-07


FREDERICK FOURIE

IN January 1, 2003, the Qwa-Qwa campus of the University of the North (Unin) was incorporated into the University of the Free State (UFS).

While this is merely the beginning of a long and complex process, it does represent a major milestone in overcoming the apartheid legacy in education, realising the anti-apartheid goal of a single non-racial university serving the Free State.

The incorporation is also part of the minister's broader restructuring of the higher education landscape in South Africa - a process which aims to reshape the ideologically driven legacy of the past.

In contrast to the past educational and social engineering that took place, the current process of incorporating the Qwa-Qwa campus of Unin into the UFS is informed by three fundamentally progressive policy objectives, clearly outlined in the education white paper 3: (A framework for the transformation of higher education):

To meet the demands of social justice to address the social and structural inequalities that characterise higher education.

To address the challenges of globalisation, in particular the role of knowledge and information processing in driving social and economic development.

To ensure that limited resources are effectively and efficiently utilised, given the competing and equally pressing priorities in other social sectors.

Besides informing the way the UFS is managing the current incorporation, these policy objectives have also informed the transformation of the UFS as an institution over the past five years.

In 2001, former president Nelson Mandela lauded the success of the UFS in managing this transformation, by describing the campus as a model of multiculturalism and multilingualism. This was at his acceptance of an honorary doctorate from the UFS.

Indeed our vision for the Qwa-Qwa campus as a branch of the UFS is exactly the same as it is for the main UFS campus - a model of transformation, academic excellence, community engagement and financial sustainability, building on the histories and strengths of both the Qwa-Qwa campus and the UFS (Bloemfontein campus).

Realising this vision will be a giant leap forward in establishing a unified higher education landscape in the Free State.

In more concrete terms, the UFS is working towards this vision by focusing on the following areas of intervention: access and equity; academic renewal; investment in facilities; and sound financial management.

These interventions are being made not to preserve any vestiges of privilege or superiority, but precisely to increase access for students from poor backgrounds and to promote equity and representivity among all staff.

The current growth phase of the UFS has seen student enrolment almost double over the past five years, in particular black students, who now constitute approximately 55 percent of the student population of nearly 18 000 (including off-campus and online students).

But it has not just been a numbers game. Our approach has been to ensure access with success.

Our admissions policy, coupled with the academic support and "career preparation" programmes we offer, have resulted in significant successes for students who otherwise would not have been allowed to study at a university.

This will be continued at Qwa-Qwa as well.

Our academic offerings too have undergone dramatic change. We have become the first university in the country to offer a degree programme based on the recognition of prior learning (RPL).

This is not just a matter of academic renewal but of access as well, especially for working adults in our country who were previously denied a university education.

As for the sound financial management of the UFS (including the Qwa-Qwa campus), this is being done not for the sake of saving a few rands and cents, but for the greater value to our society that comes from having sustainable institutions.

It is sustainable universities that can make long-term investments to fund employment equity, provide information technology for students, upgrade laboratories, construct new buildings, develop research capacity, and provide a safe environment for students and staff, as is happening now at the UFS.

As a result of such management, a practical benefit for prospective students at the Qwa-Qwa campus of the UFS will be lower academic fees in some cases compared with the Unin fees.

As is the case with all these processes, there are concerns from staff and students at Qwa-Qwa and the broader community of the region that the Qwa-Qwa campus serves.

To get the campus viable and to ensure its continuation in the short term, tough choices had to be made by the minister of education regarding which programmes to offer and fund.

But we have been encouraged by the community's understanding that these concerns can be addresed over time as the campus becomes financially viable.

Meetings between the top mangement of the UFS and community representatives, staff and students at Qwa-Qwa have laid the basis for building a climate of trust in such a complex process.

We should not be captives of the past divisions but build this new unified higher education landscape that can meet our country's developmental needs.

It should be a higher education landscape that is based on broadening access, promoting equity and social justice, developing academic excellence, and the effective and efficient management of scarce resources. This should be our common common objective.

Professor Frederick Fourie the rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS)

 

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