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Responding to core social challenges

The Vice-Chancellor's Report 2013

By Dr Saleem Badat

As a University our work is informed by the reality that, despite some economic and social gains, post-1994 South Africa remains one of the world's most unequal societies. The divisions of race, class, gender and geography and the privileges and disadvantage associated with these are still all too evident including in the town in which Rhodes University is located. An understanding of these core social challenges informs our overall social and educational goals and objectives.

As an outstanding university in South Africa our objectives are to produce knowledgeable, skilled and socially committed and compassionate intellectuals and graduates equipped to exercise leadership in our society. We continue to pursue a trajectory of becoming more postgraduate and research-oriented without any compromise of the high quality undergraduate provision for which we are well recognised.

Our key tasks are:

  • Ensuring that we provide effective academic and financial support to all our students, and especially black South African students who are from historically disadvantaged public schools.
  • Identifying potential new postgraduate and research niche areas and programmes, and ensuring that there is effective planning, fund-raising and implementation.
  • Developing appropriate institutional arrangements to enhance the quantity, the quality, the academic and social experience and the equity profile of our postgraduates, and especially South African postgraduates.
  • Continuing to pursue further chairs in proven or potential new areas of academic excellence so that we continue to help grow South Africa's knowledge economy.
  • Improving the equity profile of our academic staff.

Institutional planning
Our newly implemented Institutional Development Plan (IDP) will ensure that Rhodes proactively shapes its future, and that it has carefully considered and formulated ideas on its academic and overall institutional trajectory and development. The IDP will through an open and participatory process:

  • Ensure that there is an alignment between enrolment planning, academic planning, staffing, infrastructure planning and financial planning, and that planning occurs on a longer-term horizon.
  • Ensure that Rhodes is financially sustainable taking into account its enrolments, academic programmes and operations, and its staffing and infrastructure requirements.
  • Help us to effectively address and pursue new social and educational imperatives, goals and strategies.

Integral to the IDP is a Transformation Plan that focuses on issues of equity, institutional culture, knowledge and curriculum. Furthermore, a Campus Development Plan guides the overall physical development and maintenance of the campus. A Green Fund has been created to support the University to institute environmentally-friendly measures, initiatives and activities that ensure that Rhodes becomes a greener campus.

Enrolments and graduations
Considerable attention was given to the development of a new enrolment plan for 2014 - 2019.

The projected enrolment growth between 2013 and 2019 is from 70% undergraduate to 68%; and from 30% to 32% postgraduate. The target enrolment for 2012 was a total of 7 576 students 5 329 undergraduate students and 2 204 postgraduate students. We were under-enrolled by 183 students. We gave careful attention to the 2013 enrolments in order to try and meet our overall three year (2011 - 2013) targets: a total enrolment of 7 645 with 5 329 undergraduates and 2 273 postgraduates. We decided on a new first year intake target in 2013 of 1 600 students instead of the 2012 intake of 1 500.

Academic activities
Rhodes is well positioned for our intention to become a more postgraduate university and to further enhance our contribution to knowledge production through research and scholarship. We have a vibrant and supportive research culture that produces the third best research output per capita staff member among South African Universities. We also have the second highest percentage of staff with PhDs (56%); and very good postgraduate graduation rates.

In terms of graduations of the 2012 cohort:

  • 1 340 students received undergraduate degrees.
  • 948 students or 41% received postgraduate qualifications.
  • 1 378 graduates or 60% were women.
  • 495 or 22% were international students from 30 countries in the rest of Africa and around the world.
  • We celebrated a new University record of 63 PhD.
  • The Science Faculty produced 220 students with BSc degrees, 35 PhD graduates, 83 Masters graduates, 132 Honours graduates.

Research continued to thrive in 2012. Despite being the smallest university in South Africa, and comprising only 0.8% of South Africa's university students and 1.9% of all full-time academic staff, we possessed 7% (10) of all the prestigious research chairs that are available to universities as part of the South African Research Chairs initiative (SARChI). Our SARChI chairs are in:

  • Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology (Prof Tebello Nyokong)
  • Marine Ecosystems (Prof Christopher McQuaid)
  • Mathematics Education (Prof Marc Schafer)
  • Numeracy (Prof Mellony Graven)
  • Radio Astronomy (Prof Oleg Smirnov)
  • Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education (Prof Russell Kaschula)
  • Insects in Sustainable Agricultural Ecosystems (Prof Steve Compton)
  • Interdisciplinary Science in Land and Natural Resource Use for Sustainable Livelihoods (Prof Charlie Shackleton)
  • Marine Natural Products Research (in process), and
  • Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction: Human and Social Dynamics (in process).

On the basis of our breadth and depth in water education and research, and in partnership with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Fort Hare, we pressed on in our efforts to become a key institutional hub on the African continent in this field and to bid for a UNESCO facility. We also produced an exciting proposal in search of donor funding for a cooperative projects to promote isiXhosa as a language in higher education with other Eastern Cape and Western Cape universities.

Following a grant from Atlantic Philanthropy we look forward to the start-up for a project based in the History department on Addressing Legacies of the Apartheid Wars.

During 2012, the Education Faculty gave further attention to how and what Rhodes could contribute to improving schooling in the Eastern Cape, especially through our teacher education programmes. We continued discussions with the Department of Higher Education & Training in this regard.

The University can express especial satisfaction with the continuing development and progress in community engagement and service learning. From a modest beginning in 2006 with a single staff member, today Rhodes has a Director of Community Engagement, five additional staff and a dedicated budget for community outreach, staff and student volunteerism and service-learning. A range of partnerships exist between Rhodes and various kinds of communities and significant numbers of students and clubs and societies are involved in myriad activities. Our objective is to institutionalise service-learning as a curricular innovation that builds on the core knowledge dissemination and production purposes of the university and is infused in the teaching and learning and research activities of the university and staff and students.

Progress in improving the equity profile of academic and support staff remains a significant challenge. Attention is being paid to institutional culture issues through various studies and strategies under the leadership of a Director of Equity and Institutional Culture. Donor funding from the Mellon and Kresge foundations, supplemented by Rhodes University funding, is being used for an innovative accelerated programme to develop black South African and women scholars who are guaranteed employment at Rhodes on successful completion.

Our increasing enrolments necessarily have implications for academic infrastructure (academic buildings, lecture, seminar and tutorial venues and laboratories), undergraduate and postgraduate residences, and also for staff and developmental and financial planning Especial attention is being given to putting in place the structures and processes and mobilising the finances to sustain our trajectory of becoming a more postgraduate and research-oriented university.

We also have to consider the capability and capacity of Makana Municipality to provide the necessary services to support larger enrolments and new infrastructure.

Since 2007 we have:

  • Built a spectacular new library, completely renovated the existing library and released academic space through the incorporation of some branch libraries into the main library a cost of R75 million
  • Built five new residences cost of some R100 million
  • Built a new environmental education building cost of R12 million
  • Built a new Desmond Tutu dining hall
  • Added additional ICT bandwidth and speed with considerable future savings

Currently, a new building for teacher education is being completed at a cost of some R17 million.

During 2012 we received welcome new infrastructure funding from the DHET. The salient aspects of the new funding were the following:

  • Despite constituting only 0.8% of the student body and commanding only 1.2% of public subsidy funding, we received 2.9% of total infrastructure funding of R5.9 billion. Our share was even better we were only able to bid for a total pool of R2.2 billion, and our share of this was 7.5%
  • We received R169.6 million over the three years, beginning with an initial allocation of R56.5 million
  • Our matching contribution was R28.7 million which was 14.5% of the total approved funding of R198.3 million. This was higher than the previous 10% we had to contribute in the first two rounds of Infrastructure & Efficiency Funding
  • The specific allocations were as follows:
    • A new Life Sciences building - R86.2 million; our contribution is R14.6 million, giving a total of R100.8 million.
    • A new School of Language building R25.8 million; our contribution is R5.5 million, giving a total of R31.3 million.
    • Improvements in Pharmacy facilities and equipment - R 21.8 million; our contribution is R2.4 million, giving a total of R24.2 million.
    • A new undergraduate residence and refurbishment of current residences R30.9 million; our contribution is R5.9 million, giving a total of R36.8 million.
    • Improvements in disability access R2.8 million; our contribution is R0.2 million, giving a total of R3.0 million.
    • A contribution towards our project management costs of R2 million.

The Council of the University confirmed to the DHET by 15 December 2012 that it approved the projects, and that it would meet the R28.7 own contribution that was required and would also ensure that our projects would satisfy all the stipulated conditions.

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