/ 16 March 2023

Durban University of Technology (DUT) 2023 State of the University Address

DUT Executive Management and the SRC leadership during the 2023 SOUA at Indumiso campus.

The success of Durban University of Technology (DUT) will not be measured by its on-campus operations, its distinctive education, its state-of-the-art infrastructure or its innovative classrooms and digitally-enabled environment. It will not be measured by its green ecosystems, its people-first approach to systems and processes or its lived values and institutional culture of transparency, integrity, honesty, respect and accountability.  

According to DUT’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thandwa Mthembu, the institution’s real success will be measured by the impact of its students and graduates as they step out into the world as change makers and agents of societal transformation. 

“We cannot keep training our young people for a world of work that no longer exists,” he explains. “Our purpose must be to produce adaptive graduates with the acumen to not just respond to change, but to initiate change and drive transformation in their communities and in society.” 

Mthembu was addressing more than 300 distinguished guests at the annual State of the University Address (SOUA), held on 10 March 2023 at DUT’s Indumiso campus in Pietermaritzburg. In attendance were the university council, members of the Convocation, staff, students and the Student Representative Council (SRC), as well as external stakeholders from government, business and broader society. 

“Our students need to engage in a different process of education, and we must take our young people on a learning journey that is different than the one we went on, to prepare them for a world that is different from the one the generation before them knew,” he explained. “As a university and a society, we cannot afford to send young people into the world, qualification in hand, to join the jobseekers queue or the welfare line; by the time they complete their qualification, they must step into the world as job creators, innovators and trailblazers.” 

Mthembu said that the annual State of the University Address (SOUA) serves as an opportunity to look reflect on the progress that has been made and to look forward to what is still to come; but perhaps its most critical function is to demonstrates publicly the university’s values and principles of transparency, honesty, integrity, accountability, professionalism, commitment and excellence. The SOUA embodies ENVISION2030’s commitment to not just do the right thing, but to do things right. 

DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Thandwa Mthembu, delivering the 2023 State of the University Address.

ENVISION2030 – The Route to Success

In February 2020, with little idea of what would lie ahead in the coming months, DUT converged and dared to dream; to “design our own unique social compact as a community around our strategy”. And despite the immeasurable challenges and disruptions that the pandemic brought, they did just that. “We expressed our discomfort with just being good; we understood that being comfortable with just being good would stifle our creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial flair, and perhaps even inadvertently contribute to the impoverishment of human reality.” 

The alternative? “Instead, we expressed our insatiable appetite for greatness, and made a bold commitment to contribute towards improving the lives and livelihoods of our people and enrich human reality.” To do this would mean doing things differently and upending the status quo to bring about real transformation.

The period between 2021 and 2023 focused on a Different DUT, and this vision is well in the process of being realised. This has also laid the foundation for the second phase of ENVISION2030 starting in 2024, namely Upended. Finally, from 2027 to 2030 DUT will be ready for the final phase — Transformed — not just as an institution, but as a contributor towards a changing society. 

ENVISION2030 is the living-values framework, the four-part strategic roadmap, that will see DUT and its graduates reach these goals by 2030. During the SOUA, Mthembu unpacked the four perspectives that underpin and guide ENVISION2030, namely Stewardship, Systems and Processes, which are seen as “enabling and affecting” perspectives, and Sustainability and Society, which are best described as “influencing and impacting” perspectives. 

‘Custodians of the future entrusted to us’ 

Stewardship, Mthembu explained, is a principle that forms the foundation of everything that follows, and comprises three distinct but interdependent strategic objectives, namely Lived Values, Institutional Culture and Creativity. 

Since 2022, the double-helix monuments that adorn its multiple campuses serve as a visual representation of the DUT DNA, the building-blocks of institutional life. “People-centred and engaged, and innovative and entrepreneurial,” he explained. “This represents the most irreducible inner core of our being as DUT people that lies deep in our minds and thoughts, our hearts and souls, in our collective personality and character, and in our behaviours and actions.” 

This unique social compact was nurtured through engagement and eventually adopted in 2020 as ENVISION2030, and Mthembu said it’s no surprise that it has already led to transient outcomes and tangible impacts. “Based on a survey done in 2022, the university is doing relatively well in terms of students’ and staff’s sense of belonging,” he revealed. “The largest share of staff (73%) and students (75%) felt that they belong to the university, and at 78% most of our people have an affinity with our values and principles. They feel they are part of this ‘unique social compact’. They  are committed to living our values and principles. They are committed to living within the prescripts of our Living Values Framework.”

He added that a change in hiring methods has also played a vital role in fostering this environment: “Recruitment to DUT will not focus exclusively on qualifications and experience. Candidates will be appointed provided they exhibit as many aspects as possible of our Living Values Framework.” 

Institutional culture is born from Living Values 

Lived values and institutional culture are two sides of the same coin, Mthembu explained. “On the one side of the coin, we have socialised, embedded, shared and lived values and principles. On the other side of the coin is the DUT Way that takes root and in turn radiates an institutional culture.” 

Despite the deep sense of belonging, Mthembu said he is not blind to the deep chasms and seemingly paradoxical experiences that exist within the institution. “Fewer than half of the staff thought that DUT  fosters an organisational culture of caring, openness, honesty, and fairness and that the institution operates in line with its vision and values,” he explained. “With insights into where disparities lie, purpose-built initiatives must be crafted by different units to foster cohesion, break down silos, and build and strengthen collaboration.” 

Challenges notwithstanding, there is also evidence of the new DUT Way taking hold, and of the institutional culture emerging from it. And this, he says, is not just evident in the faculty: “The start of our academic year 2023 has been markedly different from previous years. Other universities — no longer DUT — have taken the cup of being the protest capitals of higher education. We are proud to have student leaders in 2023 who lead from the front and who are not pushed from behind. They exhibit a level of maturity, honesty, respect, integrity, commitment and excellence not seen in recent years.” 

This, he said, is one of the things he is proudest of. “So while at a broader institutional level there appears to be deep chasms with respect to cohesion, unity and common purpose, there is demonstrable convergence at stakeholder leadership levels; this convergence will be deepened and sharpened in 2023.” 

Creativity, Mthembu emphasised, is the bedrock for innovation and entrepreneurship that permeate ENVISION2030, supported by a revolutionary philosophy of education: “Our creativity and innovation shape adaptive graduates who transform society”. 

This is, after all, the end goal. 

Jamaine Krige

DUT: Supporting excellence every step of the way

The second of the “enabling and affecting” principles is that of Systems and Processes, which entails Innovative Curricula and Research, a Digital Environment and State-of-the-Art Infrastructure. 

One area where the efficiency and successes of DUT’s systems and processes is evident is in student enrolment: by the start of March, the university had registered 99.4% of its planned total enrolment, or 30 549 students against the total of 30 723 expected. “That we have registered this number at the beginning of March, with minimal disruption compared to previous years and against many challenges associated with the National Student Financial Aid System (NSFAS), is yet another victory for the investment in efficiency of our systems,” said DUT Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thandwa Mthembu.

Professor Thandwa Mthembu, DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, (second from right) with the DUT Council members at the SOUA Gala Dinner.

He noted that it was important to remember that, even when talking about systems and processes, people are not a resource, but rather the source of everything that is done, “and that can mean the source of advancement of degeneration”. 

Innovative curricula and research for a changing world  

Mthembu said this is about providing curricula that stimulate creativity and innovation and, in turn, generate new knowledge and solutions. To achieve this, the university prioritises project-based learning, which is a hands-on, solution-based learning that involves engagement with real-world problems and encourages a deeper engagement with knowledge underpinned by collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. 

This is supported by the Universal Design for Learning, a framework to optimise teaching and learning based on scientific insights, accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners, eliminate unnecessary hurdles and ensure that the educational experience is both inclusive and transformative for everyone involved. “This is how we ensure that our students think differently, and are prepared for the world that awaits them,” he said. 

“Our graduates will not be those with tunnel vision, who walk from our classrooms and get stuck in the programmes they pursued during their time here; instead, they will be agile and able to transfer their skills across other disciplines and industries where they are needed,” he explained. “Life is not static, and this new philosophy of education that we’re talking about, which is predicated on creativity and innovation, should equip them with the flexibility that they require to deal with whatever challenges and opportunities come their way.” 

State-of-the-art infrastructure for an immersive digital environment 

It’s not enough to prepare students for a tech-driven world. To truly develop into digital citizens, they must be immersed in a digital environment. But technology and digitisation are not just at the heart of institutional operations such as online student registration, online SRC elections, biometrics and security infrastructure, or procurement and financial processes. “Our focus for 2023 is to explore digitalisation in supporting our curriculum transformation, and several technological advancements in Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, sandboxes, gamification, extended reality, virtual reality, simulation and more are now at our disposal for this purpose,” he said. 

The new DUT Indumiso campus library, which inspires students to be creative, distinctive and impactful.

The Indumiso campus library is a hive of activity, with students sprawled across colourful couches and huddled in groups around books and devices. On the third floor, a sign above one of the brightly painted doors simply reads “Makerspace: Create. Innovate. Inspire”. This is one of the spaces where the sentiment of digital technologies and state-of-the-art infrastructure come to life. The Makerspace provides an innovative, stimulating and supportive environment for collaborative and self-directed learning, and allows students the opportunity to create prototypes, test ideas, build something new, or simply interact with advanced technologies that are shaping the way the world works — from 3D modelling, printing and scanning, to virtual reality devices and drone technologies.   

In the neighbouring Engineering Building, students are encouraged to engage with the state-of-the-art equipment in the Water Lab to gain a practical understanding of the theoretical knowledge they gain in the lecture halls. Hydraulic benches with different purposes and functions fill the room, and offer an insight into how the information in their textbooks plays out in real-world scenarios. 

It’s not just the academic areas that are getting upgraded. Construction is also underway on a number of new student residences, and deferred maintenance to existing facilities is being prioritised. Subject to ministerial approval, a proposed DUT student housing project, in partnership with NSFAS and the private sector, will provide almost 11 000 student beds by 2025, catering to around 35% of the current student population. “This will also help to relieve us from so much demand and pressure our students bring to bear on the quality and adequacy of accommodation from unscrupulous landlords. As you know, almost all our student protests involve student  accommodation.” Mthembu says this is also part of the university’s commitment to providing contemporary working, learning and living spaces. 

Ensuring a better tomorrow

The Sustainability Perspective is best explored through its three distinctive objects, namely Distinctive Education, Financial Sustainability and Green Ecosystems. “Our commitment to a culture of shared responsibility and accountability reminds us that we are merely transient custodians of this public good, and inevitably we have a duty to preserve it for future use by generations to come,” Mthembu explained. 

“Distinctive Education is about creating a unique, compelling and a future-oriented living and learning environment,” he said. “ENVISION2030 is, essentially, a catalyst for such an environment.” This, he added, includes a focus on co-curricular activities such as arts, sport, recreation and culture that are vital to producing adaptive graduates who have a holistic perspective on life. 

When it comes to financial sustainability, he said, DUT lives within its means without incurring budget deficits, while actively working to transform financial services at the university: “Our focus for 2023 is to improve DUT’s BBBEE level through various initiatives in enterprise development and other associated ones. We will also be launching a programme to alert student entrepreneurs on the procurement and payment process of the university, in line with the revised policy that sets aside funds to support student enterprises. To improve the demand and supply turnaround and link it to better organisational performance, we have developed an institutional procurement plan for the first time.” 

Green ecosystems for a sustainable future  

With the world in the grips of a climate crisis, environmental sustainability cannot just be another buzzword; it must be a core feature of the university and its operations, and a way of life for its students and graduates. “We are installing more recycling bins and reverse vending machines, and a rainwater harvesting project will be piloted later this year, with the collected water used for the various non-freshwater requirements of work and life.” 

The One-Residence-One-Garden project is also expected to grow, encouraging students to come up with innovative ideas to establish gardens not bound by space. Students are also supported in implementing cleaning campaigns, as well as projects that promote saving energy and water. 

Civil Engineering Technical Assistant Nkosinathi Hlalukane with the Acting HOD: Civil Engineering, Dr Chinenye Darlington Ikegwuoha, showcasing the newly established water laboratory in the engineering block, Indumiso campus.

That does not, however, mean that the responsibility for a greener university rests on student projects, Mthembu said: “In 2022, we conducted a solar feasibility study that involves three sub-projects. Firstly, the viability of DUT procuring a solar manufacturing plant, given the opportunity of such a plant being available in Pietermaritzburg.  Secondly, we are in the final stages of procurement processes for the design and installation of a 230kw carport system. Lastly, we are almost ready with the design and installation of a 47kw solar photovoltaic system on our S-Block at the Steve Biko Campus.” 

He said DUT also recently participated in a Carbon Literacy for Green Innovation and Entrepreneurship Dialogue Forum, which sets out to investigate how a Sub-Saharan Africa-contextualised Carbon Literacy Tool Kit (CLTK) integrated solution to climate change could be be leveraged for youth employability and job creation. 

Destination: Societal Transformation

Every strategic goal and objective converges in a single goal: to contribute towards improved lives and livelihoods for DUT’s people, and the broader society they find themselves in. This is achieved as an Engaged University with Innovation and Entrepreneurship at its core that produces Adaptive Graduates. 

Mthembu says several DUT units and centres engage with the broader society at local, regional, national and international levels on critical areas of social change and societal advancement like energy, water, food security, health and wellness. 

The impact of this engagement is evident, as DUT was placed fifth among South African universities for the second year in a row, and first among universities of technology, in the Times Higher Education World University Impact Ranking. The university has been lauded for its contribution to reaching several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably towards ending poverty, good health and wellbeing, clean water and sanitation and partnerships in attainment of these goals. “These achievements are not accidental,” Mthembu said. “We are reaping the rewards of huge investments we have made in the field of engagement, via our innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives, precisely because we understand that we exist to serve the broader society.” 

These investments are also geared towards innovation and entrepreneurship that changes lives. “DUT students and graduates are creators of workplaces, and our innobiz Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation continues to attract and graduate several business start-ups run by our students,” he said. “We have gone further to revise our policies to demonstrate commitment in supporting our students’ businesses and various SMMEs, in partnership with several other organisations.” 

The real success of ENVISION2030

Mthembu reiterated that all the processes, structures, policies and operational changes serve a single purpose — to produce adaptive graduates with the acumen to not just respond to, but initiate and influence changes in the world. Just three years after the university “dared to dream”, the first round of ENVISION2030 graduates will be stepping out of the classrooms and into the world in numbers.

It was not an easy ride: “Despite setbacks brought to bear by Covid-19 and lockdowns, it is my hope that we have done enough in the past three years to, at least, give them education and skills that are an extension of the resilience and adaptability they were forced to demonstrate when Covid-19 forced us to upend how we had been doing things.”

He said these graduates are entering the world and returning to their communities with one clear task: “Go back to contribute towards improving the lives and livelihoods of your people, armed with not only your education, skills and knowledge, but also the values and principles of DUT that are your foundation as a holistic, ethical, functional and productive member of society.” 

And for his colleagues, he had a final warning: “Our resolve has moved us from being a good university to being a great university, and we have triumphed over what proved to be ephemeral obstacles. That said, we dare not become complacent. It is often said that it takes ability to get to the top, but it takes character to remain at the top. Our biggest challenge, therefore, is how we will remain at the top and how we will sustain greatness whenever we reach it.” 

The 2023 State of the University concluded with a star-studded gala dinner in celebration of the gains made and a clear picture of the road ahead, as stakeholders from all walks of life were invited to ENVISION the future, the DUT Way. 

Jamaine Krige

For more information on the Durban University of Technology, please visit the DUT website: www.dut.ac.za

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