Newly installed University of Cape Town (UCT) chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe believes that the role of university chancellors should not just be a ceremonial one, but that they should be actively involved in supporting the development of higher education institutions.
This is why she and other chancellors recently established the SA Universities Chancellors Forum, a voluntary membership initiative that uses influence from their respective disciplines to effect meaningful change at universities, even though they hold no executive role.
Moloi-Motsepe said: We [have to] use our platforms in business, philanthropy and our networks to embolden and benefit universities.
Speaking on the sidelines of her installation as chancellor on Friday, Moloi-Motsepe said the forum would ensure that chancellors support each other, support the institutions they are ceremonial heads of and support all other universities.
“Our knowledge and expertise [will] benefit the broader education and higher education sector. You know how higher education funding has unfortunately been cut; you know how access to higher education is so difficult for poor students, and [there are also] issues of values at universities. That is what we will focus on,” she said.
Moloi-Motsepe said she was excited to link UCT with some of her networks in South Africa, on the continent and globally to extend opportunities for the university community.
She said the SA Universities Chancellors Forum is made up of people who served as chancellors and who together have a wealth of expertise that can help support institutions of higher learning.
“If you look at Stellenbosch [University], you have Judge Edwin Cameron; you’ve got Advocate Mojanku Gumbi [at the University of Venda]; you’ve got Professor Bonang Mohale [at the University of the Free State] and you’ve got Dr Judy Dlamini at Wits.
“You’ve got many chancellors of universities who either have political backgrounds or have done well in business or in academia. We decided to come together as a forum to support universities collectively, because we felt that there are universities that are much more successful financially … and there are others that suffer because of our historical differences.”
Supported by Universities SA, whose mandate is to create an environment in which universities can prosper and thrive in South Africa, the forum has identified areas where it can give support to these institutions.
“The first area that we are looking at currently is purely on the issue of values, respect for one another and creating spaces where there can be tolerance, respect and support for students, particularly those coming from poor communities who sometimes feel that they don’t belong in some of our institutions of learning,” said Moloi-Motsepe.
“We’re going to be exploring other areas in conjunction and in consultation with [Universities SA] because they are the executives.”
She said former chancellors and former vice-chancellors would share their knowledge and experiences to shape the higher education system, and “reimagine what education in South Africa can be to benefit our children and our society”.
Moloi-Motsepe was appointed as UCT chancellor last year, replacing former first lady Graça Machel, who served in the position for 20 years.
The self-described “product of education from the township” said being approached to become chancellor was a wonderful opportunity because education is an area she has always been passionate about. Moloi-Motsepe said: I know that, given opportunities in good quality education, a lot of our young people can achieve beyond the well-off students.
“So when I was approached, I thought what a wonderful opportunity for me to bring my passion into an area that I really care about. And when I heard that I had been elected, I was grateful and very happy,” she told City Press.
Moloi-Motsepe said it was particularly special to be asked to serve a South African institution, as she had previously worked closely with international universities, including leading US university Harvard, on leadership and women’s boards.
There is a lot she hopes to do during her 10-year tenure at UCT, including awarding bursaries to students in need.
Already, she said, she had committed to awarding bursaries to about 100 students at the institution. She has already paid the fees for 50 students who were unable to graduate because they could not afford it.
“I stepped in because areas around social economy are very close to my heart,” she said.