‘Tertiary institutions need to equip future generations with coping skills’
Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela says the Covid-19 pandemic taught us that we need to learn to navigate uncertainty and change
Covid-19's hard lessons require higher education institutions to focus less on training graduates. Instead, they should equip them to navigate an uncertain future.
This is the view of Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela, speaking to the institution’s alumni network in Durban.
“We must equip them with skills which would enable them to cope and thrive in circumstances of uncertainty and change,” he said.
Since its establishment 118 years ago, this is what the university has sought to inculcate in its students — “producing graduates who are flexible and adaptable, and imaginative problem solvers”.
Plans are being mooted to review the Rhodes' strategic institutional plan to reinforce and consolidate its position of knowledge.
“Early this year we initiated a process of reflection and reimagining to continue with the review of our institutional development plan. This was with the view of crafting a bold and ambitious vision of how to continue strategically as a learning research-intensive university,” said Mabizela.
“We are serious about carving a new path for our university. We are also serious about quality education for young people.”
A new mission and vision statement, which has received the blessing of the institution's senior academic staff is on cards.
“In our vision statement we boldly and unequivocally committed that Rhodes will be foremost in the generation and advancement of locally responsive and globally engaged knowledge dedicated to create a just and sustainable society.”
If things go Mabizela's way, Makhanda (Grahamstown) will also be in for a shake-up.
The university is touted as the biggest contributor to the city's GDP.
“Our future as Rhodes and Makhanda are intertwined. We cannot leave our future in the hands of others. We must take charge of our destiny.”
All around us we see pervasive poverty and degradation existing alongside unbridled opulence and ostentatious displays of ill-gotten wealthSizwe Mabizela, Rhodes University vice-chancellor
In 2019 the institution convened a civil society forum aimed at harnessing collective energy, creativity and resourcefulness for the community. This birthed the Makhanda circle of unity, a structure which has made headway in improving the city.
“I must indicate that our involvement with our local community is not an act of charity. It is recognition of common humanity and shared destiny.”
The university is also making headway in turning Makhanda into a vibrant, sustainable and prosperous city.
However, the mathematician expressed dismay at the state of the nation. “With each passing day, we seem to sink deeper and deeper into the abyss,” he said.
Mabizela cited the Zondo commission report, which he said meticulously documented appalling acts of brazen corruption, fraud, greed, nepotism and plundering of the public purse.
“All around us we see pervasive poverty and degradation existing alongside unbridled opulence and ostentatious displays of ill-gotten wealth.
“One does not have to look far to see individuals who are placed in positions of responsibility who would do all in their power to undermine and discredit institutions which were created to strengthen and consolidate our democracy.
“[In] those arms of government there is the fourth estate which plays an incredible role in deepening the country’s democracy.”
As the university's journalism department celebrates 50 years, Mabizela urged the public to support the media by subscribing, a move which would ensure the sustainability of media houses.
His call comes as some of them are plagued by commercial challenges, often attributed to dwindling circulation figures which force them to close. He warned against over-reliance on social media for news.
“Pay for your subscription. In doing so you would be ensuring the long-term sustainability of our print media in particular. But you will also be supporting media practitioners who work hard to collect those stories and present them in a way that is informative.”
Mabizela added that the country has excellent journalists who at times have to challenge politicians who employ bully tactics.
“That would be the death of our constitutional democracy,” he said.
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