“Stellenbosch University has become a leading higher-education institution that is making a crucial contribution to human development in our country, on our continent and in the rest of the world. Our graduates are well qualified and they are internationally in demand, our research is innovative and relevant and our impact on society is extensive. All this we do by reaching out inclusively, not by looking inward.”
This is according to Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU) at the institution’s Centenary Commemoration Gala Dinner held on Friday 23 March 2018.
Apart from Ms Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape, the Executive Mayor of Stellenbosch, Adv Gesie van Deventer, recipients of honorary degrees, members of parliament, members of Council, school principals, student leaders donors, friends of the University and members of the media attended the function in the Paul Roos Hall in Stellenbosch.
“Our Centenary year is the ideal opportunity to look back on our journey thus far and to look forward at what lies ahead. It is an opportunity to continue to build on our achievements of the past, to correct our mistakes and to start anew,” De Villiers said.
SU is at the top of its game in many respects, he said. “We have awarded record numbers of qualifications in the past academic year. We maintain high research outputs, and we make a huge impact on society. We are doing well on international rankings. And we are experiencing relative stability despite the turbulence in higher education in recent years. In terms of our sustainability as an institution, it is reassuring that our budget is healthy and that we keep up with facilities management.”
But, he added, “we are not blind to our mistakes. In the context of our country’s divided history, SU acknowledges its contribution to the injustices of the past. We are deeply remorseful about this. We sincerely apologise to those who have been in hurt in the process. And we acknowledge the critical voices in our own ranks that have taken a principled view, no matter how difficult.
“We continue to strive for greater diversity in terms of the composition of both our staff and our student corps. We are working hard to ensure our institutional culture becomes increasingly more welcoming. And we are constantly renewing our academic offering to be relevant to our context.”
SU committed to multilingualism
De Villiers was very clear about Afrikaans. “There is a misconception that SU is actively causing the downfall of Afrikaans. The contrary is true. Afrikaans is one of our languages of tuition – but based on sound pedagogical considerations, not fuelled by ideology or ethnic identity.
“Some people fear that our usage of Afrikaans will exclude those who prefer to study in English; others fear that our usage of English is detrimental to Afrikaans. I would like to ensure you that the University remains committed to multilingualism without exclusion. Language should never be an obstacle to any student. By also using English as a language of instruction, we are making sure that we are accessible to more people, and it opens doors – locally and internationally. Yet there is still a great need for and a demand for teaching in Afrikaans; therefore we continue our offer in this regard.”
A world-class university in and for Africa
Considering the future, De Villiers said that the current guiding framework, the Institutional Intent and Strategy, is coming to an end this year and that foundations have been laid for a new framework.
“Elements include SU as a world-class university in and for Africa, an institution with an impeccable reputation that serves the whole of society with innovative knowledge that is interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature; being an institution of academic excellence in search of answers to societies problems, while also advancing entrepreneurship; building strong partnerships with other higher-education institutions, with civil society, with the business sector and with the state at various levels – all the time guarding our academic freedom; being a place where people would want to come and work and study and who do not want to leave – because of caring for our people and developing them; treading lightly on this earth and safeguarding the environment; and, and because we want to do all these things for a long time to come, we want to look after our sustainability without compromising our impartiality and independence.”
Stanford of South Africa
Great universities all over the world create ecosystems that lead to so much more and while Stellenbosch is best known to tourists internationally for its wine students and sport, it has created a magnificent ecosystem because intellectual depth, good research, innovation attracts entrepreneurs, attracts investment, drives economic growth, drives new ideas, keeps a talent in the country, draws talent back to the country and creates conditions for our country to succeed.
To me Stellenbosch is the Stanford of South Africa, creating an ecosystem where great minds and great entrepreneurs can flourish because of the critical mass of intellectual power and ideas. ?