South Africa (University of Fort Hare) Ufh hosts staff indaba and employee appreciation day

The University of Fort (UFH) hosted a Staff Indaba and Employee Appreciation Day for the first time in years- most probably in over two decades.

The year-end function was held at the Alice and East London campuses yesterday, 7th December 2022. The venues for each session were filled as staff from the academic and support functions of the University attended in numbers.

The event resulted from management identifying the need to give feedback to staff on critical issues and the status of the Decade of Renewal project and celebrate milestones achieved in the year 2022.

With the University heading to the festive break, the session was also meant to shine a light on staff wellness as Covid-19 has left a scare on many of us, with some people have lost loved ones that will be missed during this is considered to be family time.

In his address, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, said: “We have to celebrate our resilience and renewal.”

The VC noted some visible strides and achievements in 2022 that speak to the University’s Renewal program. These include:

  • Management and workers’ unions have found one another;
  • Student affairs being recognized as the “People’s Choice Award Most Visible, Relevant and Coolest”;
  • A total of 85 facilities were revamped;
  • New policies have been developed and adopted;
  • UFH making its debut on the  Times Higher Education ranking;
  • Luma Ke Blues lifting the Varsity Shield Cup for the first time;
  • Baby Blues qualifying for the varsity cup 7s;
  • The University’s image improved to less than 10 percent negative media coverage;
  • The acquiring of a much-needed fleet;
  • New applications (2023) skyrocketing above 200 000, indicating that we are a university of choice”.

The VC also focused on some flagship departments that optimize the Decade of Renewal, referring to, amongst others, the UFH libraries, which always come out tops on students’ appreciation surveys; the Office of the Deputy Registrar and her team for the willingness to work in partnerships with other departments.

Some staff was singled out by the VC, such as the University’s electrician, Mr. Buzani, for always availing himself and fixing the problem he attends to – even in the still of the night. He also mentioned the chairpersons of the Covid-19 Task Team, Mr. Khotso Moabi, and Ms. Ntombana Rala, for the diligent work done to oversee the effective communication of reports related to the virus.

The achievements detailed by the VC were met with thunderous applause. “We are making progress with the renewal. The fact there is visible progress is because of the efforts made by all of us,” he said.

After the VC’s address, members of the Management Executive Committee reflected on some of the achievements in their respective areas.

In his reflection, the Registrar, Njabulo Zuma, said: “It always feels tough and long, but we always make it and raise the flag high to improve the UFH brand. To be recognized in the world ratings, this does not happen in a vacuum but because we  work collectively, and I am proud we are setting the trend.”

The Chief Financial Officer, Charles Mutamba, cited his department’s recent unqualified audit as having been a significant achievement and the hiring of four charted accountants to build capacity in that office. “Other achievements include the improved third-stream income, stable processes of payment, and reduced rate of complaints on financial aid. We have raised the standards, let’s continue going forward,” he said.

Professor Renuka Vithal, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Teaching and Learning, said UFH had achieved a lot on the academic front, several policies developed and consulted on, and submitted to the council. She mentioned continuing professorial inaugural lectures, of which female professors delivered four. She also identified the intervention to recruit quality mathematics students in the Amathole West District; this was done by providing calculators to more than 900 learners. For 2023 she indicated, “The plan is for full contact teaching and learning to return but to retain areas where we have made gains electronically.”

Dr. Ntabi Taole-Mjimba, DVC for Research, Partnerships, and Innovation reflected on some of the strategic research partnerships formed this year and the successful roadshows conducted with all the faculties to drive the University towards becoming research-focused. “We have just finalized the process of reviewing our institutional niche research areas. Early next year, we will have new niche research areas that will be incorporated into the existing ones. In terms of improving the research capacity, there are several achievements including the increase in the number of National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researchers. Last year we had 28 NRF-rated researchers and we set our target to have 33 for the year 2022. I am happy to report that we have exceeded that target and now sitting at 39 NRF-rated researchers.”

The DVC for Institutional Support, Dr. Nosisa Mayaba, said everything could be achieved in her portfolio with proper planning, monitoring, and evaluation. “A February deadline has been set aside to make visible improvement improvements. “Failure is not an option; we must deliver and make real and visible changes. Management has declared UFH infrastructure a state of emergency. Things were made worse by a hailstorm that ravaged part of the already ailing infrastructure on the Alice. My team will work around the clock and make sure when students return to a conducive environment in January,” she promised.

Mr. Lufhuno Tshikhudo, the Dean of Student Affairs, whose division recently received an award for being the Most Visible, Relevant and Cool Students Affairs Division in South Africa, said as student affairs, they are witnessing the Decade of Renewal. “The division’s role is to make students’ affairs fashionable, and we will achieve such if we focus on our pillars. These pillars include student centeredness and ensuring there is stability in student governance.”

The Dean attributed success in 2022 to, amongst several things, the SRC’s full participation in different forums. “Credit goes to the student development office for always engaging the SRC. The division is also affiliated with all relevant professional bodies; we have also witnessed significant growth in the number of female student leaders as a result, both our representatives in the university council are female, Critically, we have created awareness about the role of student affairs”.

Mr. Joe Japhta, Wellness Practitioner from the Wellness Unit, said mental health and employee well-being should always come first.

“Some employees have been through worst situations due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, and we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is normal. We look forward to developing other wellness champions from departments across the University to build readiness and response plans.

The sessions ended with a dialogue between the employees and management, with robust discussions.