In the past decade, Univen has moved from the bottom of the South African rankings, in terms of research outputs, to the middle of the pack. We seek to be among the top ten South African universities by 2030. The University of Venda, which was established in 1982, has made impressive gains in the past eight years, despite its history as a historically disadvantaged institution, in cementing its position within the South African higher education sector. Building on our achievements of the past eight years, our vision is to become a top South African university as measured by the quality of our undergraduate teaching and learning, relevant research and innovation with a high impact value and in reciprocal communityengaged initiatives that address critical areas of rural development and poverty alleviation. This strategic plan provides the necessary framework and outlines the interventions, critical to achieving this dream.
The progress made is reflected in the stability on campus characterised by a responsible and mature student and union leadership, which has allowed a new institutional culture to blossom in support of the university’s core business – its academic project. The fact that the university was relatively unscathed by the recent turmoil on other campuses attests to this. The future, therefore, presents exciting opportunities for the university to deliver high-level professional and occupational skills, research and innovation required for the economic growth and development of our region and the nation. Our competitiveness as a top South African university within our differentiated academic niche area will be measured against key global indicators that define a quality and competitive higher education institution. These include quality of staff and students, quality of our undergraduate teaching and learning programmes, quality of our research and innovation outputs, community-engaged initiatives and pass rates. Appropriate and relevant infrastructure in support of the academic project, strong leadership and management and well-established and functioning governance structures are as essential. Guided by the 2009 – 2013 and thereafter the 2012 – 2016 strategic plans, Univen has experienced significant growth in the key indicators, illustrative of a vibrant, healthy and rapidly-growing university.
Among others, we have witnessed increased student pass rates to 84% and an exponential growth in our research outputs to 0.6 per capita units in terms of peer-reviewed published articles. The graduation of postgraduate students up to doctoral level increased as did the growth in quality academic and research-driven, reciprocal community-engaged activities and projects. A massive injection of resources towards new infrastructure projects and refurbishment of buildings and growth of the information communications technology infrastructure and bandwidth of 10gbps in support of a modern-growing campus were also experienced. The introduction of student tablet personal computers in 2015 ushered in a new era of an information communications technology driven, academic-programme delivery.
Our student numbers have rapidly grown to the current enrolment figure of over 14 000 and are projected to grow to a planned total headcount of 16 000 by 2019. It is estimated that between 12% to 15% of these student enrolments will be postgraduate students. Despite the tremendous growth in our student numbers and the envisaged introduction of new academic offerings in the very near future, there has been no concomitant growth in the academic staff component, which would impact on quality if not addressed. In the next five years we will focus on increasing the number of senior academics and established researchers, and simultaneously enlarge the professoriate with entry-level positions. These will be drawn largely from our internal efforts of ‘growing the next generation of academics’ project with Univentrained masters and PhD graduates. The benchmark is to achieve a 70% target of academics with PhDs by 2030 as envisioned in the National Development Plan.
In the context of the broader debate of a differentiated South African higher education system, including the mandate for Univen to transform into a comprehensive university, we have reviewed our programme offerings in terms of relevance and viability, including responsiveness to national and provincial development and growth strategies. In light of this Univen will focus on the development and implementation of new academic offerings in the fields of engineering such as mining, agricultural, water and construction technology; health sciences such as optometry, dentistry and physiotherapy and in the new emerging area of disaster management.
The School of Agriculture will be elevated to a Centre of Excellence with a focus on food security and commercialisation in support of both emerging and established farmers.
Building on our successes, greater effort will also be placed on linkages, partnerships and internationalisation to contribute to the enrichment of the academic project. This should lead to an increase in collaborative research outputs such as those undertaken by postdoctoral students, visiting research fellows and special category academics. Such endeavors will be in support of the shared vision with our partners, in mutually enriching and growing our academic and social agenda.
An impressive number of infrastructure projects have been completed in the last eight years. This directly impacts on the quality of lives of both our staff and students, bestowing on them a greater sense of dignity in their work environment and positively enhancing our teaching, learning, research and community-engagement activities. Additional infrastructure projects are planned to further strengthen the academic project.
Transformation in the South African higher education landscape continues to be a vital project that will ensure competiveness and equity in the sector. Univen will vigorously monitor the implementation of its integrated transformation plan, with due care and emphasis being placed on gender equity in the professoriate and management. We will continue to pursue prudent financial management strategies to ensure a sound financial footing for our university. Quality and financial sustainability will be the major pillars on which Univen will continue to manage its business.
In the past decade, Univen has moved from the bottom of the South African rankings, in terms of research outputs, to the middle of the pack. With a solid foundation now laid and an institutional culture that supports the flourishing of the academic project having been established, we seek to be among the top ten South African universities by 2030 by committing ourselves to the realisation of the targets set in our 2016 – 2020 strategic plan.
Professor Peter Mbati
Vice Chancellor & Principal