UKZN's new deputy Vice-Chancellor charts a bold course for the future of teaching and learning

Professor Thabo Msibi, freshly appointed as UKZN's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, has a comprehensive vision for the institution, emphasising a blend of student success, international collaborations. Picture: Supplied

Professor Thabo Msibi, freshly appointed as UKZN's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, has a comprehensive vision for the institution, emphasising a blend of student success, international collaborations. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 16, 2023


The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is set to undergo transformative changes in its teaching and learning strategies under the leadership of its newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thabo Msibi.

In an interview with IOL, Msibi has outlined his strategy for the university's academic future.

Central to his vision are three pivotal areas: the enhancement of student success rates, the development of curricula tailored to produce employable and adaptable graduates, and the creation of an environment that champions quality teaching and learning.

Msibi said the challenge of student retention and success is not unique to UKZN, but is a concern that plagues higher education institutions globally.

Msibi is acutely aware of this 'revolving door syndrome' where many students enter the university system but struggle to complete their degrees within the stipulated time.

His solution? A robust, data-driven approach that provides comprehensive support platforms, especially for first-year students.

By leveraging data analytics, the university can identify potential pitfalls and challenges students might face and pro-actively address them, he said.

Msibi says that in today's rapidly evolving job market, it's not enough for graduates to be knowledgeable; they must also be adaptable, entrepreneurial, and ready to tackle real-world challenges.

The professor envisions a curriculum that not only equips students with academic knowledge, but also prepares them for the dynamic world of work.

This involves a closer collaboration between the Teaching and Learning Office and various colleges, ensuring that the university's courses are in sync with industry needs.

Furthermore, he stressed the importance of integrating digital innovations and pedagogies into the curriculum, preparing students for a tech-driven future.

For genuine learning to take place, Msibi said both students and staff need to be in an environment that supports and nurtures their academic pursuits.

Msibi speaks passionately about strengthening the bond between staff and students.

He believes that by addressing issues like workloads and the overall work environment, the university can foster a space where teaching and learning are joyous, collaborative endeavours.

Drawing from his rich academic background in Social Justice Education, Gender & Education, and Curriculum Studies, Msibi plans to marry this into UKZN's broader teaching and learning strategy.

He said it was important to recognise the individual identities of students.

"We don't just teach numbers. We teach people," he said, echoing the sentiments of Gloria Jean Watkins, a renowned theorist known as bell hooks.

His tenure as the youngest Dean in South Africa has not only been a testament to his capabilities, but has also provided him with a unique vantage point.

This blend of youthful vigour, combined with over two decades of experience in the system, positions him uniquely to drive change.

He brings a fresh perspective that marries the rich traditions and values of African education with global best practices.

Msibi's commitment to a student-centric approach is deeply rooted in his past roles, notably his tenure as the President of the Student Representative Council.

Reflecting on the past challenges, including campus unrest, he highlighted the urgent need to rebuild trust between academics and students. This, he believes, is foundational to creating a thriving academic community.

As an NRF P-rated scholar with a plethora of awards under his belt, Msibi's approach to academic leadership is both compassionate and pragmatic.

He firmly believes in recognising and nurturing potential. "All that people need is recognition of their potential, and support," he said, signalling his intent to foster a culture of excellence and innovation at UKZN.

On the international front, Msibi's education and experiences at institutions like the University of Cambridge and Columbia University have shaped his perspective on global collaborations. He is keen on leveraging these international ties to benefit UKZN.

From establishing partnerships to creating teaching fellowships and hosting international collaborators, he envisions a vibrant, globally connected UKZN that offers its students and staff a world-class academic experience.