Former Wits DVC is new Sol Plaatje head

A former Wits deputy Vice-Chancellor has been officially appointed the Vice-Chancellor of the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Former deputy Vice-Chancellor (academic) of Wits University, Professor Yunus Ballim, has been appointed the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the 2-year-old Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley.

Ballim who officially started as VC of Sol Plaatje University (SPU) yesterday, said the position is both “exciting and scary”.

As a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wits, he was requested by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), in 2013, to set up the SPU. This decision was supported by Wits University.

Unencumbered by phrases like ‘previously advantaged’ or ‘historically Black’, SPU offers opportunity to do new and exciting things

During this time Ballim’s title was ‘Interim Head’ at SPU but he retained a teaching and research relationship with Wits.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela about SPU, Ballim said, “As the first truly South African university, unencumbered by phrases like ‘previously advantaged’ or ‘historically Black’, SPU offers opportunity to do new and exciting things in higher education, particularly around high quality and successful intellectual development of students from traditionally marginalised communities.”

Despite moving on to a new university, Ballim says he hasn’t fully left Wits: “Wits has kindly agreed to allow me to retain my professorship in civil engineering (with no salary) to continue my research, supervision of postgraduate students and occasional teaching at postgraduate and undergraduate levels.”

With the task of being a VC of a very young university, Ballim said that “…developing the institutional, academic and infrastructure capacity of a new SPU is a very big challenge for me. As I indicated, I am nervously excited about my new task.”



WITS CDP to help new universities

TWO new universities in Nelspruit and Kimberley, which will open their doors next year, will get a helping hand from Wits University in planning their infrastructures and academic programmes.

The department of higher education and training (DHET) has approached Wits Campus Development and Planning (CDP) to help with project management for the University of Mpumalanga and the Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape.

“We will be developing capacity and project managing the infrastructure and the academic programmes to empower the new universities until they can take over the programme,” said Emannuel Prinsloo, director of CDP.

“It’s a fascinating challenge. There is no book on the shelf  called ‘How to build universities for dummies’.

The Wits CDP will put together a team of specialists to implement the academic programmes and to develop the institutional capacity needed. Prinsloo said the DHET approached Wits CDP because they were happy with their progress and delivery of their projects.

[pullquote align=”right”]“They need time to settle, to find their niche.” [/pullquote]

Wits CDP would not physically manage the construction of the two new universities, as the CDP still had its own work to complete at Wits, said Prinsloo. The two universities would not be funded or cross-subsidised by Wits or other universities.

Architectural design competitions for the buildings have been launched. Designs would be judged on the amount of green building implementation.

“It’s about orientating the building for its affordability and sustainability.”

He said the University of Mpumalanga would be built on a “greenfield site”, which meant there were no existing buildings

 on the site.

New buildings would be constructed for the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley. Urban renewal would also take place, which meant old and derelict buildings would be renovated.

The new universities would have more residences than was currently the norm at universities. While plans for the construction of the new universities are in full swing, the universities will need a little longer to reach the level of established universities.

Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Andrew Crouch said it would take some time for the two universities to reach the same level of excellence of older, established universities, unless they had unlimited resources. Crouch said it normally took fi ve to 10 years for a university to become properly established, both in infrastructure and academics.

“Any new university is like a child that grows up, it’s not an adult overnight,” said Crouch. “They need time to settle, to find

their niche.”


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