Stellenbosch sets course for the future by revamping its curriculum

Vice-chancellor Wim de Villiers says varsity is 'decolonising' its curriculum

29 April 2018 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER

Stellenbosch University is conducting a major revamp of its curriculum to "decolonise" it.
At least 10 programmes, including law, medicine, conservation ecology, earth sciences and some aspects of engineering will be extensively renewed over the next two years.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, the university's rector and vice-chancellor, Professor Wim de Villiers, said an advisory committee had tabled 23 new programme submissions last year for approval, accreditation and registration.
"Curriculum renewal is to look both at assessing courses and determining whether they are still relevant or need to change. We want to incorporate this notion of decolonising the curriculum."
He cited the MBA as an example, saying it was not relevant to use case studies only from North America or Europe.
"We should develop local case studies that speak to our local experience and context and that also address universal principles of scholarship."De Villiers, 58, a gastroenterologist and respected researcher, also spoke about incorporating data science into a range of courses.
"It's an interfaculty initiative which would encompass economic management sciences, engineering, health sciences and maths - not only for postgraduates but also at the undergraduate level.
"How do we enable our undergraduates to engage with data and also analyse and utilise it?"
The curriculum renewal project is being led by vice-rector Professor Arnold Schoonwinkel.
Issues under the microscope include the elimination of unnecessary duplication of content, assessment practices and the financial viability of programmes and modules.
De Villiers, who took over as vice-chancellor three years ago, said his role, and those of his counterparts at South Africa's other 25 universities, had increasingly become that of fundraiser.
"That's something that VCs didn't have to do in the past. Government's support has declined from 70% of our total budget to 35%. That's massive so we have to find alternative sources of income."
The father of three, a keen long-distance runner who has taken part in the Boston, New York, London, Chicago and Berlin marathons, spoke proudly of the changes in student and academic staff demographics at Stellenbosch University.
The proportion of black students increased from 16.6% in 1996 to 41.4% this year. In 2015, the university for the first time had more English-speaking (44%) than Afrikaans-speaking (42%) students.
As is the case at most of South Africa's historically white universities, Stellenbosch University still has skewed race ratios among academic staff.
This year, 71.7% of the academic staff are white.
De Villiers said a special fund, the rector's strategic personnel fund, was being used to increase the number of black academics.
A total of 44 black academic staff had been appointed through the fund, which was allocated a budget of R76.3-million.
"That's been very successful. I'm continually topping that up [the budget] in a very concerted fashion," he said.
De Villiers said he was proud of the thought leaders the university had hired.These include former public protector Thuli Madonsela; the former vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen; award-winning author and scholar Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola, who heads the university's Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management.
"We need to address complex problems and issues that we face in a multidisciplinary way and we need thought leaders to do that," De Villiers said.
"We need people who can act as role models for our students and that's the way to go."
Stellenbosch has 14 A-rated researchers, the fourth highest among South African universities.
It is the most productive university in the country, as judged by the number of research publications and the number of master's and doctoral degrees it has awarded.
De Villiers said he was optimistic that the government's fee-free higher education policy for families earning up to R350,000 would result in stability in the university sector.
One of his priorities in 2018 is commemorating the institution's centenary year.
"It's a time to reflect but also to fashion a new strategy and vision. We are a research-intensive university. We are way beyond that history where we served only a particular part of the population."..

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