It is now six years and almost seven months that I have been working at Unisa and I still get a lot of people in academia asking me why I left Wits for Unisa and why am I still here. These are people I have a lot of respect for and I know that they mean well when they ask the question. They ask the question because they know my passion and commitment to research and the fact that Unisa does not have a history of excellence in research. So their worry is well meant and I understand it very well. There is no doubt that I love research but the truth is that I love teaching too – in fact I love working with young people. The disadvantage at Unisa is that one cannot have face to face teaching with students. So why am I here?
Unisa is very different from all other universities in South Africa – it is the only university that has a social justice mandate to provide higher education opportunities for a diverse range of students who would otherwise not have access. Any university can offer degrees but Unisa shapes futures. We reach the poorest of the poor, those who may never have had access to higher education – Prisoners, domestic workers, gardeners, security guards, etc. – the disadvantaged among the disadvantaged! We serve them all! We also serve the top executives, celebrities, as well as working moms and dads who have no time to sit in lectures and those disabled student who do not want to be in the same class with people some of whom may not accept them. This university is a very special place and I feel blessed to have an opportunity to be a small part of shaping futures through research and innovation.
Part of my job here is to grow Unisa’s Research and Innovation. No doubt, we are making progress. Since I took over as Vice Principal of Research and Innovation Unisa’s research outputs have increased by more than 20%. When I got here in 2008 the number of NRF rated scientists was below 100 and now we are way over 140! While there were no A rated scientists before I took over there are now 2 and the number of B rated scientists has doubled. I have a great team and I love what I do here. My work at Unisa is not about ME but about the difference that I, as a leader, can make here. If I were focused on ME and MY PERSONAL career then I would not be working here.
I love what I do here. Most of all I love working with Unisa students – they are hardworking and focused – despite their educational challenges and socio-economic backgrounds they keep pushing to make a success of their lives. Many of them would have been failed by the system that does not understand how poverty works. I take pleasure in seeing them rise above all adversity and I take joy in seeing them thrive. This week on Thursday and Friday I will spend time with them at the 2014 Unisa Student Research and Innovation Showcase where both undergraduate and postgraduate students will be sharing their research and innovation ideas. This is the third year we are doing it and it is a marvel to watch.