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30 July 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Barend Nagel
HR Kovsie Care
The great poet Virgil once said: “The greatest wealth is health.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently listed burnout as an occupational phenomenon in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Although not classified as a medical condition, its imprint on employees’ health status is absolute. 

The hallmark of any conducive workplace is its ability to assist employees to successfully manage stress. The Occupational Development and Employee Wellness Division at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of Human Resources (HR) continues to make concerted efforts to ensure the good mental and physical health of all staff members.

Solving an occupational dilemma

Burnout is characterised by feelings of energy depletion, increased mental distance from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. Over the past few years HR has launched various preventive programmes for support and academic staff as well as service workers.

One of these initiatives is the Power Hour sessions which are hosted at lunchtime across all campuses. These interactive platforms cover topics ranging from pain, emotional intelligence, bullying, healthy eating habits, resilience and anxiety. 

Fitness as a stress reliever

Over the years what were known as Takkie Tuesdays and Thursdays have evolved into “Take a Break & Feel the difference”. Staff members take 30-minute walks during lunchtime to boost productivity, confidence, energy levels, concentration and creativity while reducing stress symptoms and preventing lifestyle illnesses.

“Our mission is to cultivate a culture of health and wellness. We believe that when the culture is conducive it affects staff performance. The main purpose is to create an environment where people are mentally and physically well,” said Burneline Kaars, head of the wellness division.

Caring is sharing knowledge

True to its tagline “Care”, which stands for: Create, Attract, Retain, Excellence, the division works around the clock to care for staff members’ mental wellbeing. This includes referring those who need curative measures for free counselling provided by Careways.

Another way through which the division inspires employees to enrich their minds, bodies and souls is the Workout@Work programme that offers cardio exercises after office hours and the Pedometer Challenge which tracks physical movement throughout the day.

“It all boils down to being more active. It gets people to leave the office, enjoy the sun, and become more creative and energised,” says Arina Engelbrecht, Employee Wellness Specialist. 

News Archive

UFS Official Opening: Speech by Rector and Vice-Chancellor

2003: Continuity and change, scholarship and community, quality and equity

2004:  From good to great: firming up the foundations for a great,
robust university – for the next 100 years

2005:  The UFS towards 2010: Sustaining change, innovation,
renewal and transformation

2006:  Ever better: enhancing the quality of scholarship through innovation and critical reflection

Address by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the
Official Opening of the UFS, Friday 3 February 2006

In Januarie 2006 het die Uitvoerende Bestuur vyf strategiese prioriteite vir die UV vir 2006 bevestig:
Gehalte en uitnemendheid
Billikheid en diversiteit
Finansiële volhoubaarheid
Regionale betrokkenheid
Nasionale leierskap.
In wese het hierdie prioriteite ons vir die laaste drie of meer jare gelei, uiteraard met variasies in die fokus en klem wat op ‘n prioriteit geplaas is in ‘n bepaalde jaar.
2006 is the year that the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) will conduct an Institutional Audit of the UFS (among others). It is a good time to reflect on quality as a strategic objective of the UFS.

1.      Quality as a recurring theme

The theme of QUALITY has permeated everything that I have said about the university in the past few years. A few examples will suffice.

Die Draaistrategie se doelwit was om finansiële volhoubaarheid te bereik sodat voldoende fondse en finansiële beweegruimte beskikbaar gestel kan word om deur­lopend te belê in
       -    topgehalte personeel,
       -    uitstekende akade­mie­se fasiliteite en toerusting,
       -    wêreld­gehalte navorsing,
       -    hoë kwaliteit onderrigprogramme en -tegnologie,
       -    topklas- biblioteek- en inligtingsbronne, en
       -    hoë gehalte strategies belangrike steundienste;
kortweg:  in kwaliteit,  in  die wetenskap en in die mense van die universiteit
sodat die UV op die medium en langtermyn
       (a) ’n finansieel volhoubare
       (b) baie goeie
       (c) universiteit
       kan wees – een van die top universiteite in die land.

In 2003, during my Inauguration as rector, I argued that: “The greatest contribution the UFS can make to the Free State (and Central part of the Free State) community is to be and continue to be, now and in 25 years’ time, a very good, high quality university” – to which I added, after discussing our social engagement, that this high quality university must always be “a creative, innovative, dynamic, equitable, socially responsive and pro-active university, never static or isolated”.

In 2004, during the Centenary Celebrations, I argued that if we want the UFS to continue to be a very good university, and to continue to grow and become a great university, we must work hard to ensure that it is a robust university in all respects.

  • Financially robust: sound financial management, sufficient reserves to absorb shocks, sound investment in the core business, sound remuneration and staff practices.
  • Robust in the management of diversity and equity: sound relations between diverse groups; strong common values to underpin an equitable, diverse workplace and student community; a firm and clear campus consensus on what kind of university society we want to be.
  • Robust in our regional role and regional engagement,          
    playing a leadership role to meet the needs of a poor and developing society, vigor­ously playing its role as an engaged university, in a way which builds a solid understanding of the proper role of a university in a developing society.
  • Robust in its national and international leadership role,
    having a vibrant and energetic outward thrust, strongly projecting its expertise in niche areas into the scientific, industrial and policy arenas.

But mostly, and critically: The UFS must be academically robust: good intellectual and disciplinary depth and integrity; high research integrity and research depth; high quality and integrity in teaching and learning and the unlocking of young minds; high quality staff; low vulnerability to staff turnover; robustness under public and peer scrutiny.

Meer hieroor later.

Transformasie was die hoofonderwerp van my openingstoespraak in 2005, en dit is steeds ‘n primêre fokus van die Bestuur en van die Universiteit. So, terwyl ek vandag op gehalte gaan fokus, wil ek slegs kortliks na die transformasieprojek, en die koppeling met gehalte, verwys.

2.      Transformation towards excellence

In launching a 4th phase of transformation of the UFS in February 2005, I defined transformation as follows: As continual and persistent becoming:

  • becoming a truly South African university of excellence, equity and innovation
  • becoming a high quality, equitable, non-racial, nonsexist, multicultural, multilingual university and place of scholarship… for South Africa and Africa.

Note that quality is an integral part of this definition.

I also argued that the concept of an engaged university provides the wider context within which this academic robustness must be pursued. This must be the essence of a clear African orientation in the academic endeavours of the UFS.

I also argued that we must continue to transform and re-engineer the UFS into a highly pro-active form. We must cultivate an ingrained habit of change, we must build a sustaining foundation for an always self-renewing, robust university.

A transformation-plan task team was appointed, with two vice-rectors, dr Ezekiel Moraka and Prof Teuns Verschoor, as co-chairpersons. This task team comprises some of the best young minds and leadership talent on the campus from all groups. Upon their shoulders rest the responsibility of formulating a coherent and comprehensive transformation plan for the UFS for this fourth phase of transformation.

My challenge to them was and is: get us to best practice transformation. Key phrases in this endeavour are:

Transformation for excellence.
High quality transformation…
Sophisticated transformation…
Deep transformation…
Imaginative transformation…
Innovative transformation…

Gedurende die afgelope 10 maande het hierdie span wyd gekonsulteer onder talle interne en eksterne belangegroepe en ‘stakeholders’ van die UV. Nou is hulle gereed om die insette wat hulle gekry het, sowel as hul eie analise van die situasie, om te sit in meer spesifieke projekte wat sal lei tot ‘n voorgestelde Transformasie­plan (wat dan deur die bestuur en Raad oorweeg sal word). Uiteraard is dit nie slegs hulle wat iets moet doen nie – almal van ons, asook sekere strukture en komitees, sal moet eienaarskap neem om die kwessies, en veral ook die projekte wat deur die Taakspan voorgestel word, aan te pak.
We eagerly await the outcomes of this process. But precisely because the team is taking up the challenge put to them, and is not simply falling back on knee-jerk or simplistic approaches to transformation, their process is a longer one than many might have thought. Quality takes time. Quality requires reflection and thorough discourse, asking the difficult questions, challenging your own thoughts and paradigms, and those of others.

This intiative will continue, and remains an important strategic imperative for the University – in which a difficult balance must be struck.

  • One cannot be a properly transformed university without being a good university.
  • One cannot be a good university without being a properly transformed university.

Maar: vandag wil ek graag die strategiese prioriteit “gehalte” van naderby bekyk en bepraat.

3.      Die ontwikkeling en stand van akademiese gehalte aan die UV

Hierdie universiteit is meer as ‘n honderd jaar oud en die fondamente van sy akademiese gehalte lê diep en breed. Dit omvat basiese wetenskappe sowel as toegepaste wetenskappe en beroepsgerigte fakulteite. Dit is gebou uit ‘n sterk onderrigtradisie en, veral sedert die 1970s, ‘n groeiende navorsingstradisie wat ondersteun is, vanaf die laaste jare van die 1990s, deur groot beleggings in navorsings­bestuur, -­strategieë, -insentiewe asook -toerusting. Dit lei onder meer tot ‘n beduidende groei in navorsings­uitsette.  Ook aan die onderrigkant is baie gedoen met nuwe programontwerp, beter ondersteuning van personeel en van studente, en so meer. Hiermee saam was die UV se groeiende interna­sio­nalisering vanaf 1990 ‘n belangrike ontwikkeling.  

The changes of the last 15 years have enabled the UFS to overcome one important intellectual constraint, of being mostly limited to one group’s thinking, one group’s set of perspectives. We have seen a significant broadening of the intellectual basis and richness of our thinking, our intellectual horizons, involging growing international contact, African initiatives, SADC initiatives – thereby moving the UFS from a relatively local (parochial, provincial) intellectual frame of reference to an open, globalised, international frame of reference. This was an absolutely essential occurrence for the UFS to become a mature university.

Al hierdie akademiese ontwikkeling is ondersteun deur ‘n beduidende verbetering en opgradering van fasiliteite:

  • Hoë-gehalte fisiese fasiliteite, met fisiese beplanning wat uitdruklik gerig is deur akademiese beplanning en prioriteite;
  • Hoë-gehalte toerusting en bronne (rekenaars, biblioteek, laboratoriums, ens.).

Today we can celebrate many examples of recognised excellence. Several of our faculties are nationally known as “one of the best”, for example, the School of Medicine. The Faculty of Law is similarly well-known as a faculty. In other, large faculties it often is specific programmes or knowledge areas that are nationally recognised. Excellence in research often tend to cluster around the established and highly rated researchers as well as the distinguished professors. Results of these research programmes often make national headlines in the media. Our number of NRF-rated researchers has grown steadily in the past few years. And we can celebrate the excellent scientific achievements of our young researchers, and notably young black and female researchers, some of which are Mellon fellows.

Baie van ons akademici speel ook leidende rolle op nasionale of provinsiale rade en komitees.

Dit is alles goed so. Maar in hierdie era van globalisering en ander eksterne bedreigings is daar nie tyd vir terugsit nie. Daar is altyd uitdagings.


4.      Towards a next level of academic quality and scholarship

Above I have stated my conviction that, for the UFS to continue on its chosen path of excellence, equity and innovation, of becoming a great and robust university, it must continue to change, staying ahead, being pre-emptive and agile, adapting and transforming – whilst all the time remaining true to its intrinsic nature as a university and place of scholarship (i.e. continuity amidst change). Continued “relevance and excellence” requires continuing adjustment and monitoring.

What is quality?

Quality is an elusive concept. Everybody is in favour of it, but not many can pin it down. It may be a bit like the proverbial elephant, which is difficult to describe, but when you see it, you know what it is. And what it is not.

A year ago, I said that we must get beyond the rhetoric of transformation by unpacking it. Likewise, today I want to say that we must get beyond the rhetoric of quality and quality assurance. We must give intellectual and practical content to “quality” in a way which derives from the intrinsic nature of the university.  

To me this means that the term “quality”, notably in the academic sphere, must be intimately linked to the concept of ‘scholarship’.  In our definition of academic work at the UFS – within the context of the PMP ke Nako project – we have defined academic work as integrating several forms of scholarship: the scholarship of research, the scholarship of teaching and learning, the scholarship of engagement.

But even more, scholarship is seen as “a certain quality or characteristic of academic work (of whichever kind, be it teaching, research or community service)… The intrinsic nature of the university imposes a most fundamental requirement on all teaching and research and community service: to be scholarly and scholarship-based” (Academic work at the UFS in terms of its intrinsic nature as a university, May 2004, p. 28).

Our conceptualisation of quality must intimately derive from this view and must support this “way of doing things academic” at a university.

Ironically, as such excellence and quality are empty concepts. Firstly, without adjectives such as “low” or “high”, quality is meaningless as a norm. More fundamentally, (high) quality and excellence are meaningless terms without specifying quality/excellence “OF WHAT”?

  • Fitness of purpose is sometimes used to designate this, but this mostly applies at system or institutional level, e.g. relating to the appropriateness of the mission of a university. It is not of much use in thinking about the quality of teaching/learning or research on a micro-level. (In addition, “purpose” itself is not an unambiguous norm in the context of a university and scholarship.)

Unfortunately, the international quality debate and national quality assurance systems do not necessarily help one to get beyond the rhetoric of quality. Upon scanning the literature, where thousands of articles, books and documents on quality in higher education can be found, it appears that, despite the millions of words, little new is said, there are few fresh ideas, and after a few hours one becomes bewildered (and somewhat despondent) amidst the almost mindless repetition of words and jargon and frameworks and systems and confidence about outcomes and processes  – without much introspection, without necessarily penetrating to what quality in a scholarly context really is, and without any assurance that quality assurance really assures or improves the quality of scholarship.

Various definitions of quality are used in this debate:

  • quality as excellence, as being exceptional
  • quality as “meeting standards”
  • quality as perfection or consistency ( defects)
  • quality as value for money
  • quality as customer satisfaction
  • quality as fitness for purpose (doing the job it is designed for; fitting customer specifications)
  • quality as transformative (an ongoing process that includes empowerment and development of the student).

Not all of these are equally applicable to a university – and one will get many viewpoints on this. Probably all of these have some element of truth. Different stakeholders will prioritise the the dimensions of quality according to their perspectives and selfinterest. In some quality initiatives there may, therefore, be a preference for some quality dimensions at the expense of others. The relevance of these definitions may also depend on which aspect of the university one is considering.

Wat duidelik is, is dat die konsep van gehalte in hoër onderwys kompleks is, en afhanklik van die perspektiewe van verskillende partye of belangegroepe.

Die toepaslike konsep van gehalte sal waarskynlik ook afhang van die vlak waarop ‘n evaluering plaasvind, hetsy of die stelsel en institusionele vlak, hetsy op individuele vlak. (Meer hieronder later.)

Officially, ‘fitness for purpose’ has been adopted as the definition of the HEQC in its review and auditing activities. This is completely in line with international practice.  

While we all have our views on the quality discourse, and on the effectiveness of national quality systems to really make a difference to quality, we must recognise three things:

  1. We are in a new era of public scrutiny and accountability, of national quality assurance systems, of being subject to a formalised, bureaucratic and managerialist system of quality assurance. We will not and cannot escape that.
  2. The UFS, like any university, must seriously deal with the issue of the quality of our work, and especially with continually sustaining and improving that quality, however defined.
  3. The international context of higher education demands a strong profile and vigour from universities.

Universities all over the world generally are not good at talking about quality. They would like simply to be trusted to be of high quality. But all universities should take quality seriously, be it Harvard or UCT or Makerere or Wits or Cambridge or UFS or Leuven or NUL. No university that wants to be a good university, can afford to be complacent about quality. Or dismissive. Or in denial. Or irritated. For in such attitudes lie the seeds of mediocrity and “middelmatigheid”, of being, oh so comfortable with ourselves and our current quality comfort zones.

And even if there is no singular or agreed-upon definition, that is no reason to avoid talking about quality. Quality requires a normative perspective and discourse about scholarship.

Quality and its relative, excellence, share the following characteristic: it is a never-ending quest. It is like a mountain which goes ever higher, ever higher after each peak. But the view and the perspective gets better and better all the time. That’s the magic.

But if we are to embark on this journey, we must have some grip on what we are dealing with.

In considering quality, and in considering our attitude to the Institutional Audit of 2006, it might be useful to distinguish between two levels: the institutional or system level, and the level of the individual academic (the personal level).

This means distinguishing between a
(a)       formal accountability framework
and a
(b)       personal integrity framework.

Put differently: one can usefully distinguish between
(a)       Systems level quality assurance and improvement (the quality of the university as instituition, or of national HE systems), and
(b)       Individual level quality assurance and improvement (the quality of personal scholarship).

This may be a liberating distinction.

  • It alerts us to the fact that, essentially, the quality of our scholarship must flow from the inner commitment and integrity of academic staff members.
  • It also suggests that the institutional audit can help us with regard to more formal/formalistic elements of quality and quality assurance, and with quality on a systemic level. However, at the level of individual performance and scholarship it is much less useful.
  • It suggests that QA systems have a role, but are not the only solution for universities and their stakeholders.
  • Some elements of quality assurance lie in systemic mechanisms and practices, e.g. independent external examiners and moderators, independent internal or external departmental and programme evaluation, effective management and policy monitoring, and so forth. But these are not sufficient.
  • Compliance with the QA systems and mechanisms may be necessary, but not sufficient for ensuring high quality of scholarship at a university. The key to real quality is what happens at the individual level of scholarship.
  • Structured staff evaluation such as PMP ke Nako can be a useful aid here, especially if properly based on the concept of scholarship, and if properly focused on staff development. But perhaps systems don’t help much here – it is about continual self-analysis and self-scrutiny.

Hoe gemaak met die Institusionele Oudit van 2006?

Die Institusionele Oudit se doel is nie om gehalte as sodanig te oudit of evalueer nie. Dit kyk eerder na ‘n instelling se stelsels en meganismes om gehalte te moniteer en te verbeter. Dit is dus iets heel anders as die akkrediteringsprosesse ten opsigte van bv. beroepsgerigte grade soos ‘n MBA of MBChB of Argitek-opleiding. Die primêre oogmerk is om ‘n instellings te help om sulke stelsels te verbeter, in te stel en te ontwikkel. Op hierdie wyse wil die HEQC bydra tot volgehoue gehalte-verbetering by universiteite.

Gegewe dat sistemiese meganismes soos eksterne eksaminering en moderering, interne en eksterne programevaluering en departementele evaluering, die bestaan van beleid oor belangrike sake en prosesse (sowel as die monitering van die toepassing daarvan), belangrike elemente is om gehalte te ondersteun en te moniteer, is hierdie ‘n belangrike geleentheid vir almal by die UV om te leer uit die proses en ons bestaande prosesse te verbeter.

Ons moet dus die Oudit gebruik, en dit wyslik gebruik. Ons moet dus die Institusionele Oudit gebruik om insig te verky in die optimale ontwerp en gebruik van gehalteversekeringstelsels – as een deel/been van ‘n meer omvattende gehalte-kultuur.

Hoe meer ons dit gebruik om selfinsig te verkry en eerlik met daardie insig te handel, hoe meer sal dit vir ons beteken.

Die gevaar is dat Gehalteversekering onbedoelde, perverse gevolge kan hê as ‘n instelling nie wyslik daarmee handel nie. As ons eenvoudig deur die prosesse gaan sonder introspeksie en ‘n gewilligheid om die formele, sistemiese elemente van ons gehalte te verbeter, sal ons geen voordeel daaruit kry nie. Ons sal tyd en energie verspil en ons denke en werk verwring.  So dit sal van ons afhang, van hoe ons reageer, hoe ons deelneem aan die Oudit.

So: Let us not fall into the trap of regarding the paraphernalia and rituals of quality assurance, rather than quality itself, as the goal. Let’s not allow the term quality to become shorthand for the bureaucratic procedures of quality assurance and auditing.  Let’s remain clearly focussed on the goals of quality scholarship. The challenge of quality in higher education is to get beyond box-ticking, jargon and newspeak, formal (but superficial) compliance and bureaucratic overload.
Kom ons gebruik die proses wat voorlê om onsself op te skerp, en sensitief te maak ten opsigte van daardie elemente van universitêre gehalte wat nie gedek word deur formele gehalteversekeringstelsels nie.

Ek wil nou ook graag almal bedank wat reeds soveel werk gedoen het om ons voor te berei vir die oudit. Dit vereis ‘n ontsaglike hoeveelheid papierwerk. Wees ook verseker dat die bestuur bankvas agter u staan en self baie hard sal werk om die oudit suksesvol te voltooi.

Op pad na ‘n nuwe, hoër vlak van akademiese gehalte

Let us then proceed, during and especially after the audit, to the other elements and dimensions of the quality of our scholarship:

  • Let’s deal with the unmeasurable and qualitative elements.
  • Let’s not only assess those things that can be measured easily.
  • Let’s not forget our main mission of scholarship and critical inquiry
  • Let’s not forget our university or academic culture
  • Let’s not forget our core academic values: academic freedom, collegiality and professionalism, etc. We must pursue quality of of scholarship within the context of academic freedom.  But the latter may never be an excuse for mediocrity…  nor is our aversion to bureaucratic systems of quality assurance.
  • Let’s not forget the complexity of the concept of ‘quality of scholarship’
  • Let us avoid conformism and cherish the quality that comes from a diversity of viewpoints and different and new ways of seeing and doing things.
  • Let us remumber that quality in teaching and learning is very important, as this affects the lives of thousands of students directly, every year.

Therefore, let us launch the UFS into a new phase of  higher quality and excellence. Let us be serious about getting “from good to great…”.

Let us be pro-active in enhancing scholarship and quality, in tackling the quest for quality, in climbing the mounting of quality – ever higher, ever higher.

We need to develop and strengthen an institutional culture of quality with scholarship and non-mediocrity as norm. Instilling the culture of being a good university in every new generation of academics is essential.

To repeat: we must get beyond the rhetoric of quality and quality assurance. We must get beyond our intrinsic aversion to formalised quality assurance. We must give intellectual content to quality and quality assurance in a way which derives from the intrinsic nature of the university. (This means treating quality as a philosphical and conceptual problem and not merely as an accounting and measurement problem.)

This is the responsibility of every staff member, every head of departement, every dean, vicerectors, and the rector.

What can we put in place to support a habit of quality, a culture of quality? Structural mechanisms? Quality structures? Incentives? Let us consider a few mechanisms:

  • Maak goeie aanstellings. Daar is geen plaasvervanger hiervoor nie. Stel die beste swart mense aan. Stel die beste wit mense aan.
  • Personeelontwikkeling en kapasiteitsbou, insluitend die verbetering van hul kwalifikasies maar ook hul scholarship-vaardighede.
  • Staff wellness as a constitutent element of having excellent staff
  • Gereelde blootstelling aan ander sienings, ander maniere van dinge doen, verskillende standpunte en paradigmas, en die kritiese nadeke van ander akademici/”scholars”
  • Peer review and peer competition
  • Continuing to move away from a parochial, provincial paradigm to an international stage
  • Konferensie-blootstelling en internasionale kontak
  • Skakeling met buitelandse akademici en eweknieë
  • Internasionale vennootskapsprojekte, veral in en oor Afrika
  • Gesamentlike navorsingsprojekte (nasionaal en internationaal)
  • Research mentorships
  • Teaching mentorships
  • Erkenning vir uitmuntendheid
  • Ondersteuning vir uitmuntendheid in scholarship
  • Support for a new generation of scholars and scientists

On a student level:

  • Tutoring and mentoring in residences
  • Tutoring and mentoring for non-residence students
  • Student support w.r.t. career counselling, follow-up counselling, “success counselling and support” – as an integral part of the quality of the teaching and learning process.
  • Tutoring and mentoring in critical thinking skills, confrontation with different viewpoints and paradigms, critical debate and discourse.
  • Linking up with schools to improve the quality of their education, so that prospective students can be better prepared for higher education. Quality is not only the universities’ problem. Other stakeholders should also take responsibility, notably schools and the school system from which we get our students. Synergy and partnerships are very important.


  • Diensuitnemendheid / Service excellence
  • Diensingesteldheid
  • Professionalisme

Quality is about innovation

In my view, innovation is the key to the quest for quality: innovation in teaching, innovation in research, always pushing the frontiers of knowledge, always doing new things – on the basis of a thorough international and national scan and awareness of what others are doing, critical discourse with colleagues, critical self-reflection, etc.

Gehalte deur innovering / Quality through innovation / change / adaptation
 “Hodgson’s Rule of Two New Things”…

In the final instance, quality is about attitude

Never sit back, or be complacent: prepare for the next round of innovation

Refuse absolutely to be satisfied with mediocrity, with “good enoughness”.

Ons mag nooit tevrede wees met middelmatigheid nie, ons mag dit nie duld nie.

Dit is die verantwoordelikheid van elke personeellid, elke departementshoof, elke dekaan, direkteur en registrateur, hoofdirekteure en viserektore, én die rektor.
As ons dit doen, sal die UV aanhou om te groei as ‘n akademiese instelling in ‘n uitdagende en ingewikkelde nasionale en internasionale omgewing. The UFS will indeed be academically robust: it will have good intellectual and disciplinary depth and integrity; high research integrity and research depth; high quality and integrity in teaching and learning and the unlocking of young minds; high quality staff; robustness under public and peer scrutiny.

Dit is dus belangrik om vandag te kan aankondig dat die Uitvoerende Bestuur goedgekeur het:

  • dat akademiese gehalteverbetering in die volgende drie jaar ’n besondere klem gaan kry, om só akademiese gehalte aan die UV op ’n volgende, hoër vlak te bring, en
  • dat die institusionele oudit ’n belangrike instrument in hierdie proses moet wees.

5.      Announcement of a major new quality-enhancing initiative: Strategic Clusters

Quality requires investment in the institution. Such investment needs to be well-considered and well-planned.

Today I can announce a major initiative to take the UFS to new heights. It is about the identification and implementation of Strategic Clusters (or Focus Areas).

The UFS operates in an increasingly competitive environment where South African universities no longer compete with only their national counterparts, but also internationally. A reputation for excellence has become a crucial factor in attracting quality students and staff, research funding and other forms of sponsorship.

The increasing national and international competition is driving institutions to attempt to differentiate themselves and adopt corresponding institutional strategies by focusing on specific areas. 

Historically areas of excellence have grown in a variety of patterns and due to different dynamics, personalities, strategies, funding bases and institutional support mechanisms. Broadly speaking these patterns were different for the natural sciences, the humanities and the professions. In many cases, areas of world class research resulted from initiatives from research leaders or from management to concentrate funds and human resources around specific areas of research, e.g. in microbiology.

Die UV het al in die verlede (bv. in 1997/8) probeer om geld en energie te fokus op bepaalde akademiese areas. Dit het telkens misluk, want daar is gevrees dat dit moontlik sekere dissiplines sou uitsluit van navorsingsfondse en dat hulle sou kwyn. Daarby het hierdie pogings plaasgevind in die tydperk voor die Draaistrategie, wat ‘n meer bedreigende atmosfeer geskep het te midde van vrese oor oorlewing.

Following the success of the Financial Turnaround Strategy (and the more secure environment it has brought), a significant re-investment in research has occurred, i.e. additional funding both for the individual and at the level of research infrastructure and equipment. The funding base for general research activities in the broad variety of disciplines at the University is quite solid at the moment.

Alle navorsing het nou veel meer toegang tot ‘n reeks befondsingsmeganismes en insentiewe as in die verlede. Areas of research excellence abound and flourish within this environment. Die voortbestaan van hierdie koesterende omgewing vir navorsers staan ook vas.

The question is whether this is sufficient, given the external environment described above. Given our insight into the patterns of research development at the UFS during the last 50 years, and given the need for large funding decisions to be made rather within a strategic framework than in an ad hoc fashion as strategic opportunities arise, a new strategy has been proposed.

It is imperative for the UFS to position itself, in its next phase of its development, not only as a “good” teaching and research university, but as an institution that truly excels in certain strategic areas (“clusters”) of research and knowledge – whilst continuing to provide firm general support for research excellence across the many disciplines.

Such clusters could be fairly focused discplinary areas, or could be broad areas involving several disciplines focused on a particular aspect or problem, and so forth.

Sulke strategiese fokusgroepe of “klusters” omvat nie slegs navorsingsareas nie, maar ook sterk voorgraadse en veral nagraadse onderrig – sowel as ‘n potensieel sterk wetenskaplike basis for samelewingsdiensleer- en samelewingsdiensnavorsing. Dit gaan oor omvattende akademiese ‘klusters’.

A medium-sized university such as the UFS with relatively limited human, physical and financial resources has to achieve this kind of “critical mass” (in terms of its core functions of teaching/learning, research and community engagement) to establish itself as a world leader in these particular clusters.

Strategic clusters will be organised on the basis that these areas of knowledge could become the flagships of the university, meaning those areas where the university currently has or in the very near future is likely to have some competitive advantage.

The identification of a small number of “flagship” strategic clusters will not only inform management decisions with regard to allocation of strategic funding, but will also serve an important purpose in searching for and acquiring funding.

Such flagship clusters would also be crucial in positioning the UFS as an institution of international standing in terms of scholarship in these strategic areas.

Die voorgestelde strategiese fokusareas (of “klusters”)

Dit is dan vandag vir my ‘n plesier om aan te kondig dat die Uitvoerende Bestuur tydens sy onlangse Beraad die voorgestelde inisiatief rondom Strategiese Klusters eenparig gesteun het. Dit volg op die Raad en Senaat se steun, in November 2005, vir so ‘n benadering.
Die UB het ook in beginsel die vyf voorgestelde akademiese fokus- of klusterareas aanvaar.

Breedweg is die vyf areas die volgende:

  1. Voedselproduksie, -gehalte en -sekuriteit vir Afrika.
  2. Ontwikkeling en streeksontwikkeling
  3. Samelewingstransformasie
  4. Waterhulpbron- en ekostelselbestuur
  5. Tegnologie vir die toekoms (chemiese en biologiese bedryf, maar ook ander). (‘n Aparte kluster rondom die chemiese nywerheid kan dalk bepaal word.)

Binne elk van hierdie klusters kan ‘n aantal nisareas geïdentifiseer word. Die klusters dek sowel die geestes- as die natuurwetenskappe – maar uiteraard kan en moet dit nie alles vir almal probeer wees nie. Die klusters moet wyd genoeg gedefinieer wees om genoeg multidissiplinariteit moontlik te maak, maar ook nie te wyd nie, want dan kan die beginsel van klusters (om te fokus en dus sekere dinge uit te sluit) uitrafel, waardeur die strategiese bedoeling van die inisiatief verloor sal word.

Hoewel die klusters se definisie en inhoud verder verfyn sal word, in gesprek met belangegroepe (UV personeel en moontlik ook eksterne kundiges) uit die voorgestelde breë akademiese areas, dui dit tog op ‘n belangrike breë konsensus oor hierdie saak. Dit is ‘n groot deurbraak vir die Universiteit dat hierdie kan gebeur, en is blyke van ‘n bepaalde rypheid wat ingetree het in die instelling, nadat dit vroeër bykans uiteengeskeur is deur die blote idee van fokus. Maar dit was ander tye.

Ter steun van hierdie inisiatief, het die Uitvoerende Bestuur reeds goedgekeur dat ‘n geoormerkte bedrag in die 2006 Begroting hiervoor gereserveer word. Tesame met ander fondse wat beskikbaar is, kan ek vandag aankondig dat R10 miljoen beskikbaar is om as saadgeld vir die ontwikkeling en vestiging van hierdie klusters te dien. Dit moet ook gebruik word om verdere fondse in te samel.

Dit hang saam met groot bedrae wat reeds die afgelope paar jaar beskikbaar gestel is vir duur apparaat: R17,2 mijoen sedert 2004. Noemenswaardig is R12 miljoen aan die Departement Chemie, geld wat onder meer gebruik is om die beste en nuutste KMR-masjien in Afrika hier by die UV te installeer. Dat saadgeld soos hierdie ‘n verskil kan maak, is reeds duidelik in die Fakulteit Natuur- en Landbou­wetenskappe, waar die investering van die Universiteit gebruik is om ongeveer ‘n verdere R40 miljoen se apparaat op entrepreneuriese wyse te bekom.

This initiative must be purposefully managed and implemented in the time ahead. Appropriate organisational forms will have to be designed and implemented. Goals will have to be set. We should, for example, seriously think of setting a goal in terms of NRF ratings in each of these areas, i.e. attaining a specific number of A- and B- and C-rated researchers in each of the areas. I say this given my concern about the loss of A-rated researchers due to immigration and poaching in times of financial drought. This is not an acceptable state of affairs.

The question is what we can do to support the current B-rated researchers to enable their upgrading. The strategic clusters initiative, which is being announced today, is an important instrument in this regard. The kind of research necessary for an A-rating, especially in the natural sciences, require a team approach: a high quality team of researchers with excellent equipment and excellent research and time management. At the same time we must continue to invest in our group of excellent C-rated researchers, as well as a new generation of young researchers, many of them from designated groups.

Hierdie is ‘n belangrike inisiatief nie net vir die Universiteit nie, maar ook vir Bloemfontein, vir Mangaung en vir die Vrystaat. Van die uitvloeisels kan belangrike impak hê op nywerheidsontwikkeling, bv. in fynchemikalieë, of op samewerking met Sasol.

  1. Dit skep ook ‘n basis vir samewerking met bv. die SUT en ander vennote, bv. Provinsiale Regeringsdepartemente.

Afsluiting / Conclusion

Voor ek afsluit wil ek graag al die personeel bedank vir al die harde werk wat in 2005 gedoen is om die UV ‘n goeie universiteit te hou, om billikheid uit te bou, om finansiële volhoubaarheid te verseker, om regionale betrokkenheid sterker te maak, om ‘n leiersrol in Suid-Afrika te speel. Dankie ook vir die werk wat reeds gedoen is ter voorbereiding van die Institusionele Oudit.

To summarise: The five strategic priorities of the UFS for this and the next years, i.e.

  1. quality and excellence;
  2. equity, diversity and redress;
  3. financial sustainability;
  4. regional co-operation and engagement, and
  5. an outward thrust and leadership, nationally and internationally

are the building blocks of being and remaining a true, mature, strong, robust, outward-oriented leader-university in South Africa and Africa.
As with the launch of the transformation initiative last year, I want to argue that we must continue to transform and re-engineer the UFS into a highly pro-active form.
We must cultivate an ingrained habit of change and quality.

Let us fortify our foundations for a great and robust, high-quality, ever-changing university - a secure, inspiring place of scholarship.
Modimo o hlohonolofatse yunivesithi ena.
Khotso Pula Nala
In Deo Sapientiae Lux

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