UKZN ranked third in SA

2014-08-19 00:00

A BOLT out of the blue.

That’s how Dr Albert van Jaarsveld (54), named the next University of KwaZulu-Natal vice-chancellor last week, described the invitation by the UKZN council to apply for the post.

“At this stage of my career it was not something I would have contemplated.”

So why did Van Jaarsveld take up the invitation? “UKZN is a very important institution for this country,” he said, “and if we as a country are to make a research impact at an international level it must be firing on all cylinders.”

Van Jaarsveld, currently CEO of the Pretoria-based National Research Foundation, and who renewed his contract earlier this year, said the NRF “was now on an even keel” and the UKZN post provided an opportunity to make an impact somewhere else … “to move the university forward and get things right”.

“Institutionally there were difficulties, everyone is aware of that,” said Van Jaarsveld, when asked about issues of staff and student morale that have dogged the institution since the 2004 merger of the former universities of Durban-Westville and Natal.

Van Jaarsveld, who takes over from current UKZN vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba on February 1 next year, said he will engage with staff in an “institutional healing process” so that staff feel positive and come to work “with a spring in their step”.

“I want to find out what bothered people,” he said, adding that he was aware of a “general unhappiness”, but was not sure if it “was about what was done or how it was done”.

“I will have a conversation with the academic community on this,” said Van Jaarsveld. “I know there are concerns around retirement age and restructuring. The most important thing is to get the climate right,” he said, pointing out that despite “difficulties” UKZN had retained its research profile — “so we have a firm foundation to build on”.

Van Jaarsveld said there were two “critical elements” required in a modern South African university: to continue transformation according to the national imperative and to “maintain and build up research and teaching excellence”.

“Universities become stodgy and, over time, bureaucratic,” he said. “I want to implement a ‘client-centric’ approach both for students, staff and partners. People are the heart of an organisation and its biggest asset. I will set about getting the backing and support of the academic and non-academic staff.” On a personal level the appointment will see Van Jaarsveld and his wife Nina moving from Pretoria to Durban in January. “Our two children are at university level and dispersed around the country.”

Van Jaarsveld said his wife is a quantity surveyor and a professional in her own right “so this will be an upheaval”.

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

‘A time for healing’

UKZN vice-chancellor designate wants to find out what bothered people

THE Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) for 2014 — also known as the Shanghai ranking — has just been published and sees the University of KwaZulu-Natal ahead of Stellenbosch University.

ARWU was first published in 2003 by the Centre for World-Class Universities (CWCU) and at the time claimed to be the first global university ranking published.

The ranking uses six objective indicators to rank world universities, including the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel prizes; highly cited researchers; and articles published in journals of nature and science.

UKZN came third in the ranking of South African universities after Cape Town and Wits, which are both ranked in the top 300 between 201-300.

UKZN and Stellenbosch University ranked in the top 500 in the 401-500 ranking, but UKZN has a higher score.

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