Chairman's welcoming address at the 3rd annual satn conference


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Chairman's welcoming address at the 3rd annual satn conference

  1. 1. 3rd ANNUAL SATN CONFERENCE 2010:Universities of technology driving human resource development through partnerships<br />Opening and Welcoming Address<br />By<br />Professor Thandwa Mthembu<br />Chairman of the Board of the SATN<br />30 September 2010<br />Honourable Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, Mphephethe; Chairperson of TIA, Dr Mamphele Ramphele; CEO/President of Arcada UAS and Chairman of UASNET, Mr Henrik Wolff; Directors-General of DHET and DST, Prof Mary Metcalfe and Dr Phil Mjwara; President of the NRF, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld; CEO of ECSA, Dr Oswald Franks; Group Executive for Manufacturing and Technology and Chairperson of the VUT Council, Dr David Phaho; representatives from business and industry: Sasol: Mr Braam Erasmus, Chief Process Engineer; Executive Director for Knowledge Fields Development at the NRF, Dr Andrew Kaniki; Executive Director of the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF), Ms Jansie Niehaus; Chairpersons of Council and members of Council present: Dr Sylvan Seane, Chairman of the CUT Council; My leaders, Vice-Chancellors of UoTs and Board members of the SATN (Bawa, Kgaphola, Moutlana, Mazwi-Tanga, Acting VC Molefe; Malaza, Phaho, Sibara); Vice-Chancellor of the Polytechnic Namibia, a new associate member of the SATN; Vice-Chancellors from other universities; College Principals from SACPO; Deputy Vice-Chancellors and senior staff of the SATN member institutions and other universities; students and student leaders from our universities; significantly importantly, sponsors of this conference: Sasol, the NRF and Bestmed without whom this conference would not have been as grand as it looks; Ladies and gentlemen.<br />Welcome to the 3rd Annual Conference of the SATN since its inception in 2006. Just in case some of you might think this is a continuation of the National General Council (NGC) of the ANC, which actually took place last week: The only natural resources we have at a university are staff and students’ brains. This conference is certainly not about nationalizing these natural resources; like the NGC, this conference will draw the line about disrespect of university management by student leaders; and lastly, as Chairman of the SATN, I can assure you that the SATN knows better what “generational mix” in its leadership is. <br />Even though this is not a mid-term review conference like the NGC, I believe the SATN has made some strides over the last 4 short years. Thanks to my leaders, the Vice-Chancellors and all the innovative and selfless members of staff at UoTs that actually do all the work Vice-Chancellors gloat about. I must also thank my predecessor, Prof Roy du Pré, the SATN’s inaugural chairman until late 2009.<br />Some of the achievements of this sunrise organisation speak for themselves:<br />In 2008, thanks to the South Africa Finland partnership, we published a report on Performance Indicators for Research and Innovation. This report adds many other hitherto unacknowledged innovations to the research and innovation indicators and outputs currently in use in South Africa. <br />In 2009, we published a book entitled: “The Place and Role of Universities of Technology in South Africa”. This book helps to define who we think we are or should be in the landscape of the university system.<br />In 2007, a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Position Paper was written by a team on behalf of the SATN. The position paper is important in that WIL as a teaching and learning methodology is most misunderstood, underdone and unsupported in our system.<br />All the years of our existence, we dealt with what we saw many years ago as anomalies and unfairness of the HEQF promulgated in 2008 to the extent that the recent Joint HEQF Communiqué 4 of 30 August 2010 acknowledges thus: “In the light of the issues highlighted, it is clear that the HEQF needs to be reviewed.” We did this with no support at all from our fellow universities because the HEQF brought minimal change in the way their programmes and curricula are designed.<br />In April 2010, we produced a discussion paper entitled: “Councils and Managements of Universities in the 21st Century”. This discussion paper was motivated mainly by an unfair share of instability UoTs have experienced recently. It puts forward some measures to ensure that governors govern and managers manage. I must acknowledge the CUT Council, now under the leadership of Dr Seane, for having adopted almost all of the proposals in that paper.<br />Later, when I give the context of the last two SATN conferences and this one, I will put some of these achievements in the right perspective.<br />I was at a conference of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently where Charles Reed, Chancellor of the California State University, used the metaphor of a train to describe the knowledge economy’s demand for higher education and limited resources to match it with the requisite and relevant supply. And, I would add, relevant supply that leads to more innovation, job creation and socio-economic development. He said higher education is like a train meant for 100 people and where in the station there are 500 or more all jostling to board. We have invited the UASNET from Europe to help us through this issue of trains. They have high speed trains across most parts of Europe.<br />Because Charles Reed was one of the first few speakers, a number of speakers caught on to the metaphor about trains and added all sorts of dimensions to it:<br />Could we build bigger trains or more coaches? <br />Could we build high speed trains - like the Gautrain - and transport more people within a given period? <br />Could we design a completely new and more efficient mass transportation system, not just bigger and more efficient trains? <br />In a sense, UoTs are part of the strategy to design new, bigger and perhaps more socio-economically efficient higher education trains. Some old trains – some tired, dilapidated and under-performing given large investments that have been made in their maintenance over decades - resent this new innovation in our mass transportation system. But, like the Gautrain, the new train is here. This one is not so elitist, only serving Sandton and the kugels who travel everyday between Pretoria and Johannesburg. This is a new mbombela for so many of our youth and young adults out there who would otherwise have no access to world-class trains, all of whom do not feature in the top 100 world rankings of trains.<br />In his keynote speech at the recent National Skills Summit of 9-10 September, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, defined one of the acute problems of South Africa at this beginning of the 21st century:<br />“South Africa now suffers from the twin scourges of high unemployment and a shortage of critical skills needed to drive economic growth and social development” <br />As a keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual SATN Conference in July 2009, the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, introduced the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) thus:<br />“The Technology Innovation Agency is part of our effort to address the challenges presented by the “innovation chasm” or the gap between the local knowledge base and the productive economy. Our innovation system is a repository of local knowledge, which could have a more sustained impact on the real economy. Due to various impediments to productivity and technological innovation, progress has been slow.<br />She also referred to some South African technologies like “the lithium battery technology used in electric cars that we lost to the U.S.A about two decades ago” and “the thin-film solar-cell technology we lost to Germany”. I know this personally because my institution CUT has also had to lose some innovations in, amongst others, medical device and additive manufacturing technology to developed countries. <br />To paraphrase what these two ministers have said; all in all, we have the following four-headed monster:<br />A seriously undermined local knowledge base that the “innovation chasm” renders not so useful in the productive economy;<br /> <br />An acute shortage of high level and critical skills to turn the local knowledge into social and technological innovations;<br />In the absence of those critical skills, a stagnant, underperforming and perhaps deteriorating economy that, ideally, should help to drive economic growth and social development;<br /> <br />And, in the absence of social and technological innovations that build our economy and foster development, more and more of our people remaining unemployed.<br />How have the last 2 conferences of the SATN dealt with this monster and how will this one deal with it? <br />As I said earlier, it may be unfair to ask an organisation barely 4 years old and consisting of universities that are barely 5 years old about these critical issues. The ANC, an organisation that is soon to be 100 years old and has been in government for the last 16 years, and has yet to get to grips with this four-headed monster. So, we are just minnows in the broader scheme of things. But, like a little beetle crawling on a critical stability point of a sand dune, I think we could cause an avalanche that will level the playing field in higher education.<br />I need to give you a little bit of history in the right perspective so that you could understand what the SATN does and will be doing over the next day and a half.<br />The inaugural conference of May 2008 had the theme: “The nature and characteristics of South African UoTs. The 2009 book I referred to earlier entitled: “The Place and Role of Universities of Technology in South Africa” is partly a result of this theme and the work of many years before. Because nobody had actually tried to define what South African UoTs are about and what they could possibly achieve in the higher education sector, this book is our humble way of making it clear who we are and what we are about. You should not be surprised, though, to learn that there are those in the higher education system who still ask: are UoTs legitimately universities or just the same old technikons. <br />In a sense, that inaugural conference aptly constituted our defining moment. Before the end of that year, we published a report on performance indicators entitled: “Performance Indicators for Research and Innovation in UoTs and CUs”. We made it clear then that we are prepared to be judged by these and we duly submitted them to the then DoE in November 2008. This project was supported by the DoE through its partnership with the Finnish government. CEPD was the project implementing agency for this project. I am certain that the now Minister’s Advisor, Mr John Pampallis would have read this important report.<br />The second conference of July 2009 had the theme: “Technological innovation at universities in South Africa: towards industrial and economic development”. This conference was accompanied by a wonderful exhibition of UoT-based technological innovations, prototypes and products from their various centres and technology stations. These innovations were both high and low tech, just using the available scientific research in the relevant areas to produce something that has the potential to grow the economy and help to develop this country. What we hoped to showcase had been how universities could be used not only to provide the knowledge base, but to produce critical and high level skills that could be directly used to “drive economic growth and social development” as our minister demanded earlier this month. This was, therefore, our attempt as UoTs to not only talk about who we are and what we are about, but to actually show it in situ that we have potential for much more in the socio-economic development arena. <br />However, there are those who think it is only universities with a long history in teaching and research that could ever do anything to advance the economic growth and social development in this country. Clearly, the 2009 conference was about dealing with the “innovation chasm”; was about how our knowledge base could be exploited to make a direct impact in economic growth and social development and in turn to make contributions towards reducing unemployment in this dear country. This was a way of beginning to deal with three of the heads of our four-headed monster. <br />This year, we have chosen to tackle the fourth head of the South African four-headed monster: a lack of critical and high level skills; and hence, our theme is: “UoTs driving Human Resource Development through Partnerships”. What we are very conscious and sensitive about from the outset is that dealing with all these monster heads cannot be achieved singularly. Thus, establishing strategic partnerships, which was also very much what we fostered in 2009 with business and industry, is what we need to foster to neutralize this monster head of the innovation chasm that leads to unemployment. <br />Instead of saying ‘neutralise the monster head’ I would have said to kill this monster or snake head. But, as you know, killing things in order to usher in a new dispensation was very much criticized when Malema raised it in 2007 or so; and, killing of snakes, or beating dead ones, rather was discouraged by our President Zuma then.<br />It is no wonder, therefore, that part of this conference is about courting stronger ties with the Skills Development system, the FET system and business/industry. For this reason, the whole session on Friday, 1 October, is just about that. Having had the FET Summit of 3 September and the National Skills Summit of 9-10 September, I hope we will use the session tomorrow to carve a niche for UoTs or universities in general as we try to neutralize the monster head of a lack of high level and critical skills. In particular, the SATN will be symbolically signing an MoU with the South African College Principals Organisation (SACPO), and MoU that was sanctioned by the Department of Higher Education and Training. This MoU is about, amongst others: assuring greater articulation for FET College students into UoTs; introducing access programmes for students from the colleges who would otherwise not be able to enrol for any university programme; helping to upgrade college lecturer qualifications especially in areas of science, engineering and technology. There is also a session this afternoon dealing with international partnerships and how they could be leveraged to produce relevant trains and an efficient mass transportation system.<br />In conclusion, therefore, as we deliberate and engage over the next one and a half days, we should find innovative ways of improving these new high speed trains we are; innovative ways of revolutionizing our mass transportation system; innovative ways of neutralising the four-headed monster; innovative ways of building strategic partnerships to be able to make substantial or maximal impact with the little resources we have at our disposal. <br />We hope our partners in Skills Development, the FET sector, business/industry and our international partners like the UASNET and the ATN will be the kind of strategic partners that will support us to the hilt in this arduous journey.<br />..........oOo..........<br />