Board News@USAf

On this platform, the USAf Office will share major decisions and outcomes of the meetings of the USAf Board of Directors.

Three editions per year are envisaged, aligned with the three-times-a-year Board meetings in March, June and October.
This edition covers some highlights of the last meeting for 2017 which took place on 18 October.

USAF Board welcomes Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize and Deputy Minister Buti Manamela

At the last sitting for 2017 on 18 October, the Board of USAf welcomed the appointment of the new higher education and training minister, Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize, and her Deputy, Deputy Minister Buti Manamela.  The Board looks forward to building a relationship with Minister Mkhize.

Decisions from the 18 October Board Meeting

Recognising outgoing members and welcoming new ones

The USAf Board congratulated Dr Sibongile Muthwa on her appointment as the new Vice-Chancellor-designate of Nelson Mandela University (NMU). Dr Muthwa will assume her position as a Director on the USAf Board when she takes up the reins at NMU from 1 January 2018. The Board also bade farewell to the Vice-Chancellors whose tenures will end at 31 December 2017.

Universities must prepare themselves for the future

Beginning at this year’s USAf Board Workshop in June, a number of important explorations were put in place to understand how the university sector may respond to big changes taking place in the higher education environment, both locally and globally. One of the most important amongst these is that USAf will establish a fifth strategy group that will focus on the vast changes taking place in the world of work; some due to the enormous implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, etc. and others due to the unfolding of sociological and organisational changes such as the so-called gig-economy, the casualisation of labour, changes to the 40-hour working week, the shift to alternative career routes, etc.

The 2018 Operational Plan

The Board approved the USAf Operational Plan for 2018, which lays out priority projects of strategy groups as well as transversal projects co-ordinated by the office of the Chief Executive Officer. USAf’s current four strategy groups are the Funding Strategy Group (FSG); the Risk and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG); the Teaching and Learning Strategy Group (TLSG) and the Transformation Strategy Group (TSG).

Among the priority projects earmarked for 2018 are:

1. Projects of the National Directorate (The CEO’s Office)

a. Insourcing or Sustainable Sourcing of Services:

Universities have since 2015 been either implementing and / or considering different models of insourcing or what we now refer to as sustainable sourcing based on their local and institutional contexts, including affordability. USAf has established a strong working group on this and much work has already been accomplished to document current practice and to demonstrate alternative models.

b. The Protection of Personal Information (POPIA) Act:

This Act is expected to come into force in mid-2018. Universities and other entities will be required to become compliant within 12 months of the Act coming into force (i.e. by mid-2019). The USAf Office of the CEO will prepare member institutions for the law’s imminent enactment and render support to them in a manner that it did with the Consumer Protection Act in 2014/2015.

c. Study to determine the Impact of Universities on Local and National Economies:

The concept paper in this regard was prepared during late 2016 and the project was duly scoped. The Office of the USAf CEO is making all attempts to secure funding for this project, which is also on the agenda of the Research and Innovation Strategy Group.

2. Projects of Strategy Groups

a. Funding Strategy Group

Study to determine the appropriate level of funding of South Africa’s higher education sector:

This study will take into account what the sector is expected to achieve in terms of the production of graduates and diplomates, research and innovation outputs and other roles that universities play in South Africa. It will be a first principles study and will aim to allow USAf to gain some traction on understanding the actual costs of study and student support so as to be able to determine the suitable funding level to allow the universities to play the role expected of them. The DHET has indicated strong interest to partner USAf on this project.

b. Teaching and Learning Strategy Group

Enhancing the student experience at public universities:

Following an indication by the TLSG, that enhancing students’ learning experiences was not receiving adequate attention through the Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) of the CHE or the initiatives within the Staffing South African Universities Framework (SSAUF) of the DHET, the USAf Office was mandated to collect information on initiatives undertaken at institutions to assess students’ learning experience as an initial step.

Teaching and learning technologies:

It was reported at the TLSG meeting on 30 May 2017 that there is a significant move by publishers towards the development of custom digital publications, accompanying assessment resources and other innovative solutions such as online laboratories.

Curriculum transformation:

At its first meeting of the year in 2016, the TLSG identified curriculum transformation as a strategic issue for discussion. Under the theme: “Curriculum transformation in universities: How might Universities SA facilitate and support imaginative and creative initiatives at universities,’’ the TLSG considered curriculum transformation an area where it could make a significant contribution to the sector through studies, convenings and staff development activities via USAf’s Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) Programme.

The National Benchmarks Tests Project (NBTP):

In light of the current three-year Service Level Agreement on the NBT approaching expiry on 9 November 2017, the USAf Board needed to consider whether to renew the SLA between USAf and the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Higher Education and Development (CHED).

c. Research and Innovation Strategy Group

National Site Licence for Journals: One of USAf’s signature projects in 2018 will be the move towards a national site licence for journals. First calculations indicate that the overall cost for a national licence may be in the region of 5-10% but the huge advantage is the universal access to all universities, science councils and government departments.

Study on Emerging Researchers:

There is deep concern about the fact that many young scholars who have graduated with doctorates are not developing into NRF-rated researchers. There is a strong sectoral view that we should obtain a much better understanding of what impediments are prevented the development of these young scholars into outstanding researchers.

The Rural Campuses Connectivity Project (RCCP):

The RCCP was established to improve broadband connectivity of priority rural university campuses to the South African National Research Network (SANReN). RCCP is managed by Universities South Africa (USAf) and implemented by the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET). Much progress has been made.

d. Transformation Strategy Group

Implementation in 2018 of the transformation barometer in public universities:
the Transformation Barometer is essentially a self-monitoring and reporting tool that enables institutions to set transformation performance indicators and report progress against these, thus facilitating sector compliance in this regard across the board. The Transformation Strategy Group (TSG) has been leading on this project.

Reconstituting institutional culture by focusing on the design of the universities around our students and around their more intensive engagement with their local and regional contexts:

There is a growing view that the TSG ought to be more engaged in the project of helping the sector to give effect to institutional culture change. Two meta-projects have been considered and accepted. The first is the design of our universities to be geared towards student success and with their overall intellectual, social and emotional development. The second is to understand how to design our universities as anchor institutions in their local and regional contexts so that they are seen to be a major resource by their communities.