At their third and final sitting for 2019, the USAf Board of Directors elected Professor Sibongile Muthwa, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Nelson Mandela University as the Chairperson of USAf for the period 1 January 2020 – 31 December 2021.
The gathering, hosted at the OR Tambo International Airport, also re-elected Professor Wim de Villiers, Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University as the Deputy-Chairperson of USAf.
At the same meeting, the USAf Board also appointed Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of University of Cape Town as the Chairperson of the Admissions Committee.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng takes over from Professor Gordon Zide, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Vaal University of Technology.
Strategy groups priorities approved for 2020
The Board reviewed and approved all priorities of strategy groups identified for 2020. The details of these may be viewed on the USAf website under strategy groups, on: https://www.usaf.ac.za/strategy-groups-give-strategic-direction-to-universities-south-africa/
Decisions concerning the USAf Office
The Board engaged with the draft Strategic Framework for USAf for the period 2020 – 2025 and declared their support for the broad thrust of the document. The CEO will further populate the draft with a view to tabling it at the first Board meeting in March 2020 for formal adoption.
Further to the Strategic Framework, the Board approved the USAf Operational Plan for 2020 and also approved the proposed USAf budget for 2020, as presented by the Director: Finance and Administration. The Board approved the proposal presented to it, on the revision of USAf’s procurement policies.
They also endorsed the financial report presented for the period ending 30 September 2019. They approved the proposed annual salary adjustment for USAf staff for 2020 and the proposal regarding changes in this regard.
Another significant decision was the appointment of BIG as USAf’s internal auditors for a three-year period (2020- 2022). BIG has been providing internal audit services for the past three years ending in March 2020. USAf opened up a new tender process with a view to securing a successor on the expiry of the current contract and BIG won the race for the second time.
Update on on-going projects
The Board was also updated on two projects that involve external partners as reported below.
- State of Mental Health of Students in the System
After a number of engagements between the USAf CEO and the Medical Research Council (MRC), the MRC had made a substantial commitment of resources and personnel for the rolling out of a national project aimed at understanding the nature of and extent of mental health challenges being faced by students. The project is being led by Professor Dan Stein at UCT and Dr Jason Bantjes at Stellenbosch University. They were both involved in a similar study previously conducted in the Western Cape. The first phase of the study will be to conduct a national student health survey which will commence in March 2020. The second phase will be to develop, pilot and test appropriate interventions. The Board agreed that an Advisory Committee be set up for the project and the CEO, in consultation with the MRC, will work on the composition of the committee.
- National Site Licence and Open Access Project
Following a series of workshops and discussions with deputy vice-chancellors, chief financial officers, librarians, the leadership of the science councils and international partners on the Open Access Project, the USAf CEO reported to the Board that the process of assembling a roadmap for South Africa is nearing completion.
Depending on the pace of negotiations with international publishing companies and the existing contractual obligations that SA has with them, this could be a multi-year project. The aim is to transform the current agreements to new and more transformative arrangements focused on:
- Moving away from a ‘pay to read’ to a ‘pay to publish’ model while
- Ensuring that authors retain copyright of journal articles.
Following the last meeting of the steering committee comprising USAf, Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), National Research Foundation (NRF), South African National Library and Information Consortium (SANLiC), Committee of Higher Education Libraries of South Africa (CHELSA), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), a set of decisions were taken:
- South Africa would negotiate as a knowledge sector, including the universities, science councils, private institutions and relevant government departments.
- A South African position paper on Open Access would be developed and delivered at the USAf HE Conference in October.
- The project would be seen to be a multi-year project with the first negotiations towards a transformative agreement being with Taylor and Francis. The contract comes to an end in December this year.
- An interim governance committee had been nominated involving USAf (Bawa, Kramer and Burton), ASSAf (Veldsman), NRF (Qhobela and Osman), DHET (Mabizela and Kayi), DSI (Moodley), CHELSA (Satgoor) and SANLiC (Truran).
- An interim negotiations committee had been established to strengthen the negotiations team of SANLiC. This comprises Stephanie Burton, Hardy Maritz, Glenn Truran, a DVC (Academic) in whose portfolio the library resides and one business person who is willing to be involved.
The Board supported the next steps of the project, including the establishment of an interim governance committee and the interim negotiations committee.
Decisions taken from engagements with external stakeholders
Two external teams also attended specific sessions of the USAf Board meeting on invitation. These were: a) the delegation from the DHET, which had been invited to discuss the state of tuition and residence fee increases for 2020; b) the Minister of Police, Hon Bheki H Cele and his Deputy, who were meeting with the USAf Board at the request of Gen Bheki Cele.
- Department of Higher Education and Training
The Board engaged the DHET around the holding pattern on tuition and residence fee increases for 2020. The DHET indicated that it is in the process of developing a proposal for the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology. It is envisaged that the Minister will call a meeting with the Chairs of Council and Vice-Chancellors in November 2019 to make an announcement around the fee increases for 2020. It was also noted that the DHET was working on the Fee Regulatory Framework to regulate fee increases for a 3-year period. It is anticipated that the draft framework will be published for public comment in March 2020. In terms of the student funding policy, it was noted that the DHET was working on a change in the policy around accommodation allowances mainly for off-site accommodation. The DHET’s thinking is to have a “flat rate” for students living off-campuses. However, the DHET is still doing some financial modelling to assess the affordability of the proposed change in policy. The DHET indicated that it will consult the sector on any policy change in due course. The Board urged the DHET to have these consultations in November 2019 in order for clear policy guidelines to be communicated to universities in the first week of December 2019.
- Minister of Police
Minister Bheki Cele and Senior SAPS officials attended part of the USAf Board meeting to discuss improving safety and security on university campuses and new approaches to policing to that end. This had been prompted by the recent spate of violence including murders on and off campuses in recent weeks. The Police Minister was accompanied by the CEO of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSiRA), which is responsible for the regulation of the private security industry at institutions of higher learning.
- the importance of students feeling safe and being safe on and off campus;
- the importance of universities having minimum standards of security and of ensuring that all security officers deployed on campuses are vetted and trained specifically for the student environment; and also
- the importance of involving students, the communities around the institutions, the SAPS, the criminal justice system and other relevant governmental operations in the engagements on safety changes around campuses,
all parties agreed to establish a working committee that would look at short and long-term security solutions on and off campuses. The committee would constitute representatives from the Police Ministry and Secretariat, PSIRA, as well as members of from Universities SA.
The team would be tasked to look at, inter alia, some of the proposals made, including:
- the establishment of Victim Friendly Facilities to speedily assist student victims of crime, especially those who have been affected by gender-based violence;
- the adoption of Institutions of higher learning by police officers to improve response time;
- investigating best ways to assist poorer students to protect them from falling prey to criminal networks;
- interrogating student transport and accommodation matters and engaging landlords about the security measures in place to ensure the safety of students living in off-campus accommodation.
The committee would further engage with the Departments of Higher Education and Training and Social Development to extend student safety to TVET colleges and schools.
The vice-chancellors indicated a strong willingness to collaborate with the Minister and his team and pledged to bring the strong research capacity of universities to bear on the issue of social violence.
As the meeting drew towards conclusion, Minister Cele called upon the student population to also come on board to find solutions. “Students shouldn’t feel that we as the police are creating police states around them. We want a dialogue with them and for them to be part of the fight against crime.” The Minister added “We know that alcohol is a big contributor to students coming under attack and also attacking each other. This is why we will be going hard on illegal drinking holes that fuel crime especially on weekends,” Minister Cele concluded.