/ 20 September 2013

Leading by example

Leading By Example
Leading by example (Photo Archive)

Central University of Technology (CUT), Free State, is based in the heartland of South Africa and it should come as little surprise that management, staff and students have formulated a strategic vision for the future that is all about the heart.

They call it the vision 2020 statement and in it are ideas and goals that are supported and inspired by the university across all platforms and programmes.

Vision 2020 states that by 2020, CUT shall be a university that focuses on producing quality social and technological innovations for socioeconomic development, primarily in the central region of South Africa.

This vision has four pillars: plan, people, product and pennies, and each describes an important aspect of the university’s future.

“This represents our aspirations and our determination as a university of technology,” says Professor Thandwa Mthembu, vice chancellor and principal of the university.

“Through it we seek to contribute substantively to addressing the developmental needs of the Free State, central region, South Africa as a whole and the continent, and it will do this by graduating an industry-leading workforce and entrepreneurs.”

The university’s goal is to educate by example, to be a leader in areas of social and technological innovations and research.

CUT believes that no successful geographical region has established a technology-based industry without a leading educational institution in its midst and CUT wants to become this institution.

In this lies the strength of the “plan” pillar that outlines step-by-step implementation and review of the main practices and outcomes of vision 2020.

“The rollout of vision 2020 energised the staff and students and we had road shows across the university, unpacking it and getting plenty of crazy ideas that have led to projects that truly make vision 2020 a reality,” says Mthembu.

“This is a boldly and unashamedly utilitarian vision, fit for a university that has students who need to be out there in the world of business, industry and the workplace.”

The second pillar, “people”, sees the university introduce programmes that focus on the development of staff and students.

One of the primary issues facing graduates today is the lack of employment opportunities, especially for those without hands-on industry experience.

Many students struggle to even get placements for their internship and are unable to complete their qualifications.

CUT is managing this issue for its students through a variety of initiatives, such as Work Integrated Learning, which exposes students to experimental training opportunities.

“The ‘product’ pillar shows that CUT’s products are not students but its academic programmes, research and innovation outputs.

“CUT has initiated various 'equity and excellence' programmes from its won funds: for emerging academics and researchers; for leaders, be they in the support staff services, alumni or students.

"We have assembled a team of about 50 staff and students, irrespective of hierarchy, who we call A-teamers. They provide us with their crazy ideas that are beginning to inspire and change the whole university.”

A process called Strategic Transformation of Educational Programmes and Structures (Steps) was introduced in 2010.

Through this process, the university has conceptually designed new, relevant, responsive and demand-driven programmes.

Unviable programmes that only help to swell the ranks of the unemployed will ultimately be discontinued.

In 2007, CUT was on the edge of financial ruin with an unaffordable salary bill that constituted 75% of the total of subsidy and tuition fees.

“This has now been reduced to the current maximum of 62%. CUT has now created a target- and ratio-based financial management system which helps to contain the salary bill and our operational expenditure, while it enhances our capital expenditure, and expenditure on academic versus support staff.”

Regional Innovation Forum
The department of science and technology, the University of Free State and CUT pledged their commitment to collaboration and development at the launch of the Regional Innovation Forum Free State (RIF).

The goal is to promote economic growth across the various provinces of South Africa and it has the potential to address issues such as inequality, poverty and unemployment.

“The mandate of RIF is completely aligned with the CUT 2020 vision and we are extremely excited about its potential,” says Professor Henk de Jager, deputy vice chancellor of academics at CUT.

“It must be seen as an important outlet to encourage new ideas and promote constructive engagements between government, universities, the business community and civil society.”

If RIF is about innovation and empowerment, then CUT is on track to be a strong supporter of that movement and it ties in with the university’s third pillar, product.

“Vision 2020 is about sustainability and ensuring that the university participates fully in dealing with the broader concerns of the world,” says Mthembu.

“CUT’s products are not its students, but our targeted and demand driven curriculum that ensures a future for students.”

Creating and supporting a goal, such as vision 2020, can have far reaching results that extend beyond the boundaries of the campus.

Mthembu advocates the belief that societal development in leading countries does not arise in a diffuse or amorphous way, but wis targeted and localised and then spreads out to the rest of the country, even the world.

“At face value our vision reveals no grandeur about being the best nationally, in Africa or the world. However, it clearly puts us as a knowledge centre in the epicentre of regional socioeconomic development through innovation.

“This is, in our view, the ultimate objective of education. Once we have helped to conquer the regional environment, we have no doubt that other universities both locally and internationally, will stop to notice and hopefully emulate us. In that way we can become world leaders in what we do,” says Mthembu.