Rector’s Year End Message 2021
Dear Campus Community
It has been an extraordinary year filled with immense challenges. I am proud to say that we have once again endured as a community and excelled despite the odds stacked against us, and under circumstances that have impacted every part of our lives. It has been no different for the higher education sector.
Just as we began to imagine life in the time COVID-19 and a return to some semblance of normality, we are faced with the possibility of a fourth wave of infections and the onset of a new variant of the coronavirus called Omicron. Our country is edging towards 90 000 COVID-19 deaths. The University of the Western Cape has had its share of losses of students and staff to the pandemic.
In these circumstances, hard decisions have to be taken.
To protect the health and safety of our students, staff and visitors, the Council of the University approved the Interim Vaccination Policy on 25 November 2021. The University followed a consultative process with all stakeholders, and we believe we have devised a working solution despite global developments appearing to change rapidly.
We have listened and considered all input during the consultative phase of the policy’s creation. We are therefore confident that the policy is inclusive and ensures that none of our students is left behind.
Despite the hardships, we have achieved much on our trajectory as a leading, globally relevant, learning and teaching University that is grounded in research and innovation. We remain true to our legacy of social justice, community engagement and graduate employability, facilitated by greater access for deserving students to higher education. We continue to place a high premium on producing graduates who are ready for an ever-changing landscape in the world of work.
One of our proudest achievements this year is vaccinating more than 10 000 members of the UWC family – including parents of staff and students, their children and alumni. The Western Cape Department of Health has lauded the University’s efforts to support the national campaign to achieve population immunity. Our students and staff from the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences even took to the road to provide vaccinations in largely indigent communities like Bellville South and Fisantekraal.
Our endeavours in the fight against the pandemic have had global impact. The Times Higher Education (THE) rankings noted these efforts. The THE Emerging Economies University Rankings 2022 assessed 698 universities this year – up from 606 in 2021. Of the 11 South African universities ranked, UWC has improved the most, moving from 126 in 2021 to 107 in 2022.
Our scientists and the UWC media team successfully partnered with media outlet IOL to produce #VaxxFacts – an online platform to dispel myths and provide facts about vaccination using credible information produced by our academics, scholars and researchers. The series reached about 70 million people online.
But universities are about more than rankings. They are places for critical thinking and for expanding one’s horizons – whether in academics, leadership, the arts or sport. I want to take the opportunity to thank the SRC leadership for their spirited engagement with University leadership.
Our student athletes excelled during this difficult year. University sports continue to play an important role in the life of the university and in helping students face life’s challenges. UWC will be participating in men’s basketball, women’s netball, women’s football, cricket and Varsity Cup Rugby in the 2022 Varsity Sport tournaments. We have had several sporting successes this year, particularly the Women’s Football team who are Varsity Women’s Football champions and who finished third in the professional Hollywoodbets Super League. Our rugby team, relative newcomers to Varsity Cup, finished sixth this year and four UWC players were signed by provincial franchises. Notably, UWC’s Director of Sport, Mandla Gagayi, has been nominated for the FISU Gender Equality Champion Award, in addition to being appointed to SASCOC’s Policy Development Commission.
Despite the disruption COVID has brought, I am pleased that UWC continued to excel in the area of research and innovation. Highlights for 2021 include:
- The University’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO) winning the DSI-SARIMA Excellence in Organisational Growth Award in October 2021 for its growth over the last 10 years in research and innovation capacity and activities within UWC, as well as its involvement in the innovation ecosystem in Southern Africa;
- A dental aerosol suction device that reduces COVID-19 transmission – invented by Drs Riaan Mulder and Suné Mulder-van Staden, from the Faculty of Dentistry – which has been taken to market in collaboration with the TTO;
- The Exatype Platform for DNA analysis assigned to UWC’s spinoff company Hyrax Biosciences has developed a genotyping solution for SARS-CoV-2, and has received funding to further develop COVID-19 technology and implementation in the South African public health system;
- The HIV antimicrobial peptides for novel HIV diagnostic were granted an Evaluation License to the South African company Diagnostic Aptamer Technologies Aminotek (DATA) in April 2021 to test the UWC innovation for further development into a novel HIV diagnostic by DATA. The Evaluation License was renewed for a further six months in October 2021; and,
- An agreement was signed with an SA company CapeBio (PTY) Ltd who is interested in further developing the Y-STR DNA Forensic Kit – UniQTyper technology in collaboration with the UWC Forensic DNA Lab. A Research Collaboration Agreement is in preparation for a one-year project to develop the latest prototype of the “Rape Kit” for testing by various forensic services.
As the campus spreads its footprint, it is pleasing to see the Unibell Student Village – which will see 2 700 new student beds – rise to roof level, as well as progress to the South Campus Education Precinct Project expansion on campus. Two off-site facilities – a Digital Innovation Hub between Bellville and Parow, and the repurposing of a historic site in Greatmore Street, Woodstock for Arts and Humanities initiatives – are also in advanced stages of development and nearing completion.
Elsewhere, the Sports Stadium revamp is underway with a new athletics track, VIP area and Venue Operation Centre, among other developments, to be launched in 2022. The indoor pool has also been refurbished and the High-Performance Centre – which will facilitate collaborative research between sport and science – is already in use.
A new Institutional Operating Plan (IOP) 2021 – 2025 has been adopted towards our Vision 2035 goals. Due to the pandemic, the rollout of the IOP has been delayed, but we look forward to engaging with all of our stakeholders in 2022 around this important document that paves the way for UWC’s vision and future intentions.
Despite the many difficulties associated with COVID-19 and remote work and study, this year has been very rewarding, allowing all of us to pause, reflect and challenge the validity and efficacy of long-standing practices and approaches. I am immensely grateful to the UWC staff and students for their perseverance and continued commitment to the University.
We know that 2022 promises to be another challenging year, but the resilience we have demonstrated will help us to manage adversity. In the end, we will be able to say that we have triumphed.
As we all prepare to complete unfinished business and wind down, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you well over the holiday season, and I hope that you will all have a well-deserved break with your families and loved ones.
Professor Tyrone Pretorius
Rector and Vice-Chancellor