Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, TUT’s VC and Principal with Johannes Nkambule, Assistant Registrar, who won the Service Beyond Call of Duty Award at the Academic Excellence Awards.
Celebrating the people behind ‘the people’s university’
Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) ended the year on a high note by celebrating excellence within its ranks at the 2022/2023 Academic Excellence Awards. Held on 29 November 2023 at the Maslow Time Square Hotel in Menlyn, Pretoria, the glittering event recognised top academics, researchers, innovators and support staff who exemplify TUT’s commitment to academic excellence and impactful research.
Hosted by South African media powerhouse Thami Ngubeni, the night delivered on its theme and presented lecturers, academics, researchers, innovators and support staff “A Time to Shine” as they took the red carpet ahead of the gala dinner.
In his opening address, TUT Vice Chancellor Professor Tinyiko Maluleke praised the award winners for helping redefine TUT as a unique institution “where industry and academia meet” over its short two-decade history.
University of humble origins
Maluleke traced TUT’s origins from three separate apartheid-era institutions segregated by race to today’s modern university, which leads in entrepreneurship and work-integrated learning. “You have, in 20 years of quiet but remarkable academic outputs, invented a distinct and unique TUT teaching and research brand,” he told the audience.
He credited award recipients and their TUT colleagues for their “concerted efforts and commendable research and innovation” that have helped TUT live up to its mandate as a “people’s university” focused on positive impact: “Look around you, because in this country, on this continent and elsewhere in the world, there is nothing quite like TUT. And you, my dear colleagues, researchers, lecturers and innovators, are the secret sauce. You are the value proposition. YOU are the unique selling point.”
A future-focused challenge
Amid celebrations, speakers also made calls to action — for both the institution and award winners. Maluleke noted that TUT has “not even begun to flex its muscles” and step into its full potential, saying excellence must remain an unrelenting pursuit.
Speaking in the middle of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, Maluleke also took a moment to acknowledge that it was up to every person and every institution — including institutions of learning — to play their part in ending this “silent war” against society’s most vulnerable members.
This, he said, was not just a challenge to better society; it was one to better the institution. “GBV is not a problem out there, it is a problem in here; here in the university, here in the workplace, here in the classroom and laboratory and in the curriculums we teach, the materials we prescribe and the research methodologies we employ and deploy.”
He noted that today’s complex challenges require institutions of higher learning to increase their research and innovation impact, “especially if necessity truly is the mother of invention”. Along with the scourge of gender-based violence, he named global pushes for sustainability and environmental preservation as issues requiring urgent academic attention.
This, he added, should not be disheartening: “While you, as individuals and as groups of researchers, have recorded remarkable achievements already, there is so much more to do.”
“While there will and there must always be room for blue sky research, the ultimate test of all research, all curricula, all innovations, all entrepreneurial ventures, all quantitative and all qualitative research is the extent to which these will advance environmental sustainability, as well as the extent to which these will contribute to the prevention and elimination of violence,” he explained.
He acknowledged the efforts of each person in attendance for their role in crafting and deploying, in consultation with industry partners, a flipped classroom that has set TUT on its trajectory to become the premier entrepreneurial university in the country, an institution “where innovators, creators and future-ready graduates are made”.
Speakers emphasised that excellence depends on collaboration, passion and relationships across all facets of the institution. Deputy Vice Chancellor Ben van Wyk singled out the “security personnel, maintenance staff, IT specialists and administrators” who play essential but often overlooked roles in delivering top-notch education. “Our pursuit of the objectives of a knowledge-centric institution necessitates the concerted efforts of diverse stakeholders,” he said.
The annual Academic Excellence Awards is just one way that the university fosters a culture of dedication and compassion while showing its appreciation for those dedicated to “the extraordinary endeavours on display, often forged amid arduous, tumultuous and demanding circumstances”.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Papa-Zamxaka echoed this in her address. She noted TUT’s impressive recent research growth — including a record of more than 900 research outputs submitted in 2022, more than double previous records, and a 20.37% growth in its number of rated researchers — “would not have been possible without the commitment, sacrifices and passion” of diverse research and support teams across TUT.
She said the days of universities standing as monuments to the elite are long gone; instead, it was the role of institutions like TUT to avail themselves to address societal problems. “As a development-oriented university priding itself in producing future-ready graduates and impactful research, it remains our imperative commitment to assisting the country in addressing socioeconomic challenges, and this must be reflected by the work of our academics.”
These awards should inspire and refuel our energies as the world continues to face global disruptions. “We are grateful for your efforts in continuing to raise the TUT flag high, and we know that your achievements will continue to inspire others. It is through you that the African philosophy of ubuntu is reflected in our university,” she said.
Awards spotlight shining stars
The highlight of the evening was recognising standout talent across teaching, research, innovation and university citizenship. Top honours included Lecturer of the Year awards for each faculty and the Institutional Lecturer of the Year Award to Veronique Bosch of the Faculty of Science. The Institutional Lifetime Achievement Award went to Professor Felix Dakora, also from the Faculty of Science. The award for SDS Practitioner of the Year went to Kobus Fourie, while Development Practitioner of the Year was awarded to Anna Ngoloyi. Albert Sekgobela took Employability Practitioner of the Year.
The event also recognised staff members who achieved new qualifications, including 38 Master’s degrees and 31 Doctoral degrees. Each of the 69 staff members who improved their qualifications were given special mention, affirming TUT’s commitment to celebrating excellence within its ranks, and reaffirming the university’s trajectory to take the institution, its staff and its students “from good to great”.
Other award standouts were the TUT Sunchaser Solar Car Team and AI Hub. They received accolades as the Institutional Newsmaker and Institutional Newsmaker Merit winner respectively for generating positive attention in 2022. The winner of the award for Service Beyond the Call of Duty went to JM Nkambule.
Excellence as an ongoing pursuit
The evening closed on a high note. Award winners and guests enjoyed a spectacular opera performance by world-class TUT alumni and opera-singing power-couple Bongile Madlala Musa and Lehlohonolo Musa. Their powerful renditions capped a night filled with TUT talent.
In closing, TUT leaders like Vice Chancellor Maluleke challenged award winners to continue pursuing greater impact amid global disruptions. The awards showcased TUT’s ethos of celebrating stellar work while continually striving for greater influence. As Prof. Maluleke stated, “Academic excellence awards are not retirement awards” but are rather “intended to rejuvenate you and to spur you towards greater heights.” TUT progresses by expecting exceptional efforts today that light the way towards an even better tomorrow.