Universities with unique identities

South Africa’s youngest universities, Sol Plaatje University (SPU) and the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) are making good strides in growing the institutions by giving them a unique identity and footprint in higher education landscape.

UMP has increased its intake from 169 in 2014 to 6 720 this year. The students are predominately female and from previously disadvantaged communities.

“Of all the students enrolled this year, 62.8% are female and only 37.8% are male,” said Tlangelani Ubisi, the university’s director for stakeholder liaison and communication.

“Out of the 675 graduates last year, 459 were women – and women make up almost 70% of registered postgraduate students this year.

“Student success is generally high with a more than 85% success rate annually,” said Ubisi.

He attributes this success rate to the ongoing support provided to students at all levels.

UMP has also grown its academic offerings from three undergraduate programmes eight years ago to 48 this year, which range from higher certificates to Ph.D. qualifications.

The university notes that the socio-economic development challenges encountered by the province are of the utmost importance in shaping the university’s future.

“These include building on the comparative advantage of the province in fields such as agriculture, mining, conservation, and services such as tourism to achieve socio-economic goals linked to national goals and priorities; and embarking on concerted strategies and plans to improve employment rates in the province,” according to UMP.

The university is also establishing itself as a centre of knowledge in agriculture.

“UMP is the only university that offers the advanced diploma in agriculture in post-harvest technology. This programme aims to maintain quality of agricultural produce throughout the value chain, that is, after harvest,” said Ubisi. Currently 47.1% of UMP
academic staff have doctoral degrees, and the university has nine researchers with National Research Foundation ratings.

SPU in Kimberley opened its doors with just 124 students in 2014. This year, enrolment stands at 3 479, with 591 in postgraduate studies.

The university is working hard to build its identity as a research-active institution.

Kashini Maistry, senior manager in the office of vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Crouch said: “We expect further growth in the areas of articles published in accredited journals, an increase in research income, and a larger percentage of our staff obtaining their doctoral degrees.”

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