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UFS Official Opening: Speech by Rector and Vice-Chancellor
2006-02-03

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.