Higher education vital in Africa’s growth – SU Rector
“Higher education has a vital role to play in getting Africa to the next level. It is therefore crucial for Africa’s higher education sector to build up its own capacity.”
This is according to Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU) who addressed delegates to the Leadership Programme for University Development presented by the Advancement Academy at Stellenbosch this week (6-8 Sep). The programme focuses on advancement’s importance in the growth, development and sustainability of higher education institutions. (Advancement is a collective term for the fields of development (fundraising), alumni relations, communication and public relations in higher education institutions.)
The Advancement Academy at Stellenbosch is a virtual hub offering leadership training and development in advancement.
“A key question for us as higher education institutions,” Prof Botman said, “is our contribution to society. As an ‘engine of development’, as Manuel Castells termed it, the university is well placed to equip graduates with both the technical knowledge and the broad attitude and values required to flourish in the knowledge economy. Another useful point of reference is Eric Gould’s assertion that the ‘broadest and most vibrant context for the development of knowledge in higher education is its social mission to empower individuals and to serve the public good.’
The challenge for us as university leaders is to determine how best to harness the ‘engine of development’ to both ‘empower individuals’ and ‘serve the public good’”.
In his presentation, Prof Botman gave an overview of SU’s advancement campaign, known as the HOPE Project. In constituting the Project Prof Botman argued that by taking on some of society’s toughest challenges, “we could position ourselves as the ideal partner for those wanting to make a difference in the world.”
He explained that funding milestones were achieved with three main categories of sources: External philanthropic donations, research contracts and sponsorships; government funding; and internal resources that were reallocated to our capital campaign.
“We had deliberately decided to follow this approach, because it would allow us to leverage the funding that we needed. If you can show potential investors that you yourself as an institution are willing to invest in your plans, and that the government supports your plans with funding from their side, then the external parties are more likely to invest in you.”
Prof Botman also referred to the fact that the milestones were reached in the prevailing climate of an economic downturn globally, and shrinking state subsidies for higher education.
“What you need to do is to show them that the safest, most reasonable investment in such times is higher education. It lays the foundation for a fundamental recovery and for long-term performance of the economy. And they can be sure that there will be the right kind of workforce when the economy recovers again.”
The University’s success so far does not mean its campaign has come to an end, Prof Botman told delegates. “We have identified what we call a new quantum challenge. It is all about making our progress sustainable. Our biggest priority is to transform Stellenbosch University into a place where future leaders are shaped. And for that we need top facilities. We want to put in place new learning, living and work spaces that meet the demands of both the local and the global context.”
Lessons learnt, Prof Botman said, are first of all that vision is vision is everything. “It is all about deciding where you are heading, and communicating that to your constituency as best you can. You need to be able to tell a simple story of what it is you want to achieve, why and for whom.”
The second lesson is the value of institutional support and commitment, the third is the strategic utilisation of resources, the fourth is the fact that an advancement campaign must be integral to your operations, not an add-on. Lastly, Prof Botman said that that the role of the Vice-Chancellor and other senior leaders is crucial. “For a campaign to be taken seriously, it has to be owned at the very top.”
Strategic donors want to hear from the horse’s mouth, he said. “They want to be able to judge for themselves whether your campaign is a core strategy, or if you are merely busy with PR.”
In conclusion, Prof Botman said: “One thing that stands out for me is that we have changed the conversation about this place from being referenced in the past, to being about the future and the kind of world we want to build for generations coming after us. Our HOPE Project has enhanced respect for what science can contribute to human development, which is the moral imperative of our time. It has inspired and galvanised our academics and other staff, highlighting their work as essential and worthwhile.”
- Click here for an earlier article or see www.advancementacademy.co.za for more information.
- Click here to read Prof Russel Botman’s speech.