UCT yet to finalise appointment of new vice-chancellor

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Mamokgethi Phakeng. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo)
Mamokgethi Phakeng. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo)

Cape Town – The University of Cape Town has dismissed rumours circulating on social media that Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng has been appointed as its new vice-chancellor.

"Prof Phakeng has not been appointed. The approval by Senate this afternoon is part of a process that is continuing," UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said.

"The next step is for the selection committee to report to the Institutional Forum (IF) on the process followed, including steps taken to meet equity targets. The IF will then submit its report to council, verifying the process that has been followed."

"Thereafter, the selection committee will submit a full report on the recruitment and selection process, together with the reports of senate and the IF, to council for approval," he added.

Moholola said the next council sitting was scheduled for March 17.

Phakeng joined UCT in July 2016 and took over from Professor Danie Visser as the deputy vice-chancellor of research and internationalisation in January 2017.

She is a highly-regarded professor of mathematics education and has published more than 80 research papers.

In 2008, Phakeng became the first South African black researcher to be appointed to co-chair a study commissioned by the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction.

Before moving to UCT in 2006, she was vice-principal of research and innovation at the University of South Africa (Unisa).

Globally competitive

During a presentation last month, Phakeng addressed issues such as transformation at UCT and other higher education institutions and the legacy of UCT as a world-class university.

Phakeng said students should become more involved in talks around transformation and decolonisation at universities.

"It is not just about creating access. People come here and then they have to change to be like the space, but the space remains the same. Transformation means the space is also affected by who comes into it. It is more than simply demographics, it is even more than just curriculum," she said.

"Students have to be intimately involved in institutional culture. So that transformation does not become another form of managerialism because increasingly at higher education institutions, the transformation discourse is becoming constructed as an alibi for compliance and control and this is why the debate has moved from transformation to decolonisation."

Phakeng said she was also struck how thinking about the future the first idea that came up was "world class".

"UCT is no doubt a globally competitive university… Many would argue being globally competitive is what makes UCT important for the continent and the country," she said.

"After all, every country deserves a university that is able to play on the global stage. The kind of university that produces Nobel prize-winning knowledge and if not, then they should at least be able to use Nobel prize-winning knowledge and to make it available to a broader knowledge system within the country and within the region."

Phakeng challenged students and staff at UCT to change the way they think about the future of the institution.

"World class is a legacy issue which sometimes means the past constrains innovation and dramatic reform and in my view, one of the big challenges when we think about the future of UCT is our legacy as a globally-competitive university," she said.

"We look back often with greater enthusiasm than we do looking forward, and I think we need to change this if we want to face the future and continue being world class."

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