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29 January 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Francis Petersen speech
“We can create an institution that operates and lives in the times of embracing and celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence by ensuring that students own their time at university,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

25 January 2019 marked the official welcoming of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) first-year students, as they moved into their respective residences and were warmly welcomed on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. This day also marked the start of the registration process for first-year students.

According to first-year Psychology student Keisha Claasen, who moved into her residence earlier on 25 January, her first experience of the UFS was daunting but exciting, as she had never been in a similar environment. According to Given Gwerera, who dropped his son off at the Karee residence earlier the day, “the UFS is an institution with great culture and an overall good academic record.” He further explained that he trusts his son to make full use of the opportunities presented to him, as he has a cool head on his shoulders.

On the evening of 25 January, an eager group of millennials, joined by their parents, took the first sip from their cup of varsity life as they assembled on the Red Square of the Bloemfontein Campus to meet the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, members of Rectorate, the deans of all faculties, and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the UFS.

“2019 will be a year of continued change; the UFS is thrilled about the prospect of bringing about opportunities for adaptation and realignment to the future,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

He further explained that the university prides itself in moulding its students into well-rounded individuals who will develop into globally competitive graduates as required in a diversity of landscapes. Prof Petersen urged first-years to remain open to the technological developments that go with globalisation, because of its permanent effects on society today.

First-years were further advised to take advantage of the rich pool of academic research and knowledge that is characteristic of the university and is piloted by UFS scholars, by engaging with and learning from them.

The inspiring night concluded on a colourful note, as the audience enjoyed an artistic laser show in front of the Main Building. Caption:

“UFS academics conduct research that forces the world to take note,” said Prof Francis Petersen at the official first-year welcoming ceremony on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

News Archive

Position statement: Recent reporting in newspapers
2014-10-03

 

You may have read reports in two Afrikaans newspapers, regarding recent events at the University of the Free State (UFS). Sadly, those reports are inaccurate, one-sided, exaggerated and based not on facts, but on rumour, gossip and unusually personal attacks on members of the university management.

Anyone who spends 10 minutes on our Bloemfontein Campus would wonder what the so-called ‘crisis’ is about.

We are left with no choice other than to consider legal action, as well as the intervention of the South African Press Ombudsman, among other steps, to protect the good name of the institution and the reputation of its staff. No journalist has the right to launch personal and damaging attacks on a university and its personnel, whatever his or her motives, without being fair and factual. In this respect, the newspapers have a case to answer.

But here are the facts in relation to the reports:

  1. No staff member, whether junior or senior, is ever suspended without hard evidence in hand. Such actions are rare, and when done, are preceded by careful reviews of our Human Resource Policies, labour legislation and both internal and external legal advice. Then, and only then, is a suspension affected. A suspension, moreover, does not mean you are guilty and is a precautionary action to allow for the disciplinary investigation and process to be conducted, especially where there is a serious case to answer.
  2. At no stage was the Registrar instructed to leave the university; this is patently false and yet reported as fact. We specifically responded to the media that the Registrar does outstanding work for the university and that it is our intention for him to remain as our Registrar through the end of his contract in 2016.
  3. The Rector does not make decisions by himself. Senior persons, from the position of Dean, upwards, are appointed by statutory and other senior committees of the university and finally approved by Council. No rector can override the decision of a senior committee, and this has not happened at the UFS even in cases where the Rector serves as Chair of that committee. The impression of heavy-handed management at the top insults all our committee structures, including the Institutional Forum – the widest and most inclusive of stakeholder bodies at a university – which reports directly to Council on fairness and compliance of selection processes.
  4. In the case of senior appointments, Council makes the final decision. Council fully supports the actions taken on senior appointments, including a recent senior suspension. The fact that one Council member resigns just before the end of his term, whatever the real reason for this action, does not deter from the fact that the full Council in its last sitting approved the major staffing decisions brought before it. The image therefore that the two newspapers try to create of great turmoil and distress at the university, is completely unfounded.

Even if we wanted to, the university obviously cannot provide details about staffing decisions, especially disciplinary actions in process, since the rights of individuals should be protected in terms of the Human Resource Policies and procedures of the UFS. But that does not give any newspaper the right to speculate or state as fact that which is based on rumour or gossip, or to slander senior personnel of the university. For these reasons, we have been forced to seek legal remedy and correction as a matter of urgency.

Make no mistake, underlying much of the criticism of the university has been a distress about transformation at the UFS; in particular, the perception is created that white colleagues are losing their jobs. The evidence points in the opposite direction. Our progress with equity has been slow and we lag far behind most of the former white universities; that is a fact. More than 90% of our professors are white; most of our senior appointments at professorial level and as heads of department are still overwhelmingly white. Reasonable South Africans would agree that our transformation still has a long way to go and only the mean-spirited would contend otherwise. But based on the two Afrikaans newspaper reports, an impression is left of the aggressive rooting out of white colleagues.

In the past few years the academic standard of the university has significantly improved. We now have the highest academic pass rates in years, in part because we raised the academic standards for admission four years ago. We now have the highest rate of research publications, and among the highest national publication rate of scholarly books, in the history of the UFS. We have one of the most stable financial situations of any university in South Africa, with a strong balance sheet and growing financial reserves way beyond what we had before. We now attract top professors from around the country and other parts of the world, and we have the highest number of rated researchers, through the National Research Foundation, than ever before. And after the constant turmoil of a number of years ago, we now have one of the most stable campuses in South Africa. Those are the facts.

The UFS is also regarded around the world as a university that has become a model of transformation and reconciliation in the student body. The elections of our Student Representative Council are only the most visible example of how far we have come in our leadership diversity. Not a week goes by in which other universities, nationally and abroad, do not come to Kovsies to consult with us on how they can learn from us and deepen their own transformations, especially among students.

Rather than focus on what more than one senior journalist, in reference to the article in Rapport of 21 September 2014, rightly called ‘a hatchet job’ on persons and the university, here are the objective findings of a recent survey of UFS stakeholders: 92% endorse our values; 77% agree with our transformation; 78% believe we are inclusive; and 78% applaud our overall reputation index.  Those are very different numbers from a few years ago when the institution was in crisis.

This is our commitment to all our stakeholders: we will continue our model of inclusive transformation which provides opportunities for study and for employment for all South Africans, including international students and colleagues. We remain committed to our parallel-medium instruction in which Afrikaans remains a language of instruction; we are in fact the only medical school in the country that offers dual education and training in both Afrikaans and English for our students - not only English. We provide bursaries and overseas study opportunities to all our students, irrespective of race. And our ‘future professors’ programme is richly diverse as we seek the academic stars of the future.

We are not perfect as a university management or community. Where we make mistakes, we acknowledge them and try to do better the next time round. But we remain steadfast in our goal of making the UFS a top world university in its academic ambitions and its human commitments.

END

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