UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng Photo: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – UCT's academic enterprise programmes will from August be led by a team of four women for the first time in its academic history, the institution announced on Thursday.

This rare occurrence in higher education institutions around the world follows the appointment of Professor Sue Harrison as the new deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) for research and internationalisation.

Harrison joins vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Associate Professor Lis Lange (DVC for teaching and learning) and Professor Loretta Feris (DVC for transformation) at the top levels of the university’s executive academic leadership structure.

Phakeng said the fact that all four executive leaders of UCT’s academic enterprise are female marks a significant moment of transformation for women in academia and leadership positions – in South Africa and globally –news.uct.ac.za reported

“I am delighted that the UCT Council has placed their confidence in the experience and expertise of my executive colleagues,” she said.

Harrison’s responsibilities as DVC will include improving research quality, quantity and impact, and ensuring that UCT maintains or improves its position as a research-intensive university “as reflected in the international ranking of institutions”.

UCT moved up in its ranking of from 171 to 156 in the 2018 Times Higher Education rankings of the best universities in the world. It has the highest ranking on the index of any institute of higher learning on the continent.

Harrison, who holds the South African Research Chairs Initiative chair in bioprocess engineering and is the director of both the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research and the Future Water research institute at UCT, takes over from Professor Kevin Naidoo.

Phakeng thanked Naidoo for his contribution since he began acting in the position at the beginning of the year.

Harrison has a long history at UCT, where she earned her BSc in chemistry and microbiology, and her honours in microbiology. She spent 28 years as an academic in the chemical engineering department, receiving her full professorship in 2000.

Eleven years later she was appointed as deputy dean of research and postgraduate studies in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, and focused on the establishment of interdisciplinary research entities at UCT, including the Future Water research institute, Phakeng said.