Durban - THE University of KwaZulu-Natal’s newly appointed vice-chancellor is on a mission to enhance the institution’s reputation as the country’s leading place of research and learning.
Professor Nana Poku, appointed to the position last week, won’t settle for the UKZN merely being another producer and purveyor of knowledge.
He plans to equip students to invent, adapt and apply the next generation of technological marvels in a learning environment where transformation is intrinsic and up to speed.
Poku’s five-year term of office began following the UKZN’s global search for a suitable candidate.
Ghana-born Poku had been acting vice-chancellor since October last year, when Dr Albert van Jaarsveld resigned from the position.
Van Jaarsveld has since taken on the role of director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.
Poku joined the university in 2013 as executive director of the Health Economics and HIV and Aids Research Division before his appointment as deputy vice-chancellor of the college of law and management studies.
“My appointment as VC and principal of UKZN allows me to apply my values, interests and skills on behalf of a truly fine community of men and women. I regard it as a privilege as well as an honour,” Poku said.
On his task ahead, Poku said the UKZN had a “transformation agenda”, designed to position the university “ahead of the curve” in the rapidly changing landscape of higher education. “The aim of our transformation agenda is to strengthen and enhance the university in an inclusive and integrated manner, focusing on everything from student accommodation, securing new streams of funding and enhancing our academic standing, not only locally but globally,” he said.
There were no doubts about the UKZN’s ranking as a leading research-intensive university.
“According to the UK’s The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019, the UKZN continues to be counted among the top 500 universities in the world, and is fifth in Africa.
“Moreover, and uniquely, we are also the most transformed research-intensive university in South Africa, with more than 58% of our new recruits, this year, coming from quintile 1-3 schools.”
Poku confirmed the UKZN’s commitment to the national transformation agenda.
Exploring ways in which students can acquire degrees that will increase their chances of gaining employment is another important objective in Poku’s mission.
He said a curricula review would be required to achieve that goal.
Poku fully endorsed the UKZN’s move to introduce isiZulu as a compulsory module for undergraduates in 2013.
“We have every reason to be proud of our efforts to establish isiZulu as a language of research, teaching and learning in accordance with our language policy and plan.
“It affirms our determination to make the university more reflective of where we are located in South Africa.”
He said as a university with international standing, “we have no wish to supplant English, but we consider terminology development vital to increasing the inclusion of local and regional practitioners, collaborators, and disciplinary experts”.
Poku agreed that a more flexible, interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to research, teaching and knowledge transfer activities was required at the university.
He assured that the UKZN would continue to ensure students were equipped with knowledge of, and kept abreast of, all advancements of the fourth and fifth industrial revolutions, and in social relations, politics and in relation to the environment.
“Equipping our students to be critical thinkers, encouraging them to be fully engaged as moral agents and citizens, is part of the reason why universities exist - it’s never been more vital.”
He said in a web-enabled open-sourced world, knowledge was an increasingly cheap and a readily accessible commodity, and universities were but one among many sources servicing the ever-increasing demand for knowledge.
He would not be drawn into commenting about the investigation into the reported sale of places at the university’s medical school and health sciences faculty by staff members.