South Africa: VC Welcomes Future Changemakers to UCT

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is the ideal institution for students who aim to make a difference in the world, who seek an environment where inclusivity and excellence go hand in hand, and who want to be part of a university that is not only the best in Africa, but also for Africa.

That was the message from Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng to prospective students, parents, siblings, teachers and counsellors at UCT's annual Open Day, held on the campus on Saturday, 4 May.

Addressing a packed New Lecture Theatre auditorium, Phakeng told them that Open Day is one of the three most important events on the university's calendar. The others are orientation week and graduation.

Offering encouragement to the students, she said she could already see students who have what it takes to stay the university journey.

"I am seeing graduates here ... I am already seeing that."

But Phakeng was clear that to win a palace at UCT, future students need a variety of attributes, not least of which is a desire to change the world for the better.

"We want to educate changemakers. We want students who want to change the world," she said.

"People who want to make a difference come here."

Educating changemakers

Another necessary characteristic is curiosity.

"We want to educate changemakers. We want students who want to change the world."

As UCT is a place of knowledge, it is important that prospective students have inquiring minds, avoid making assumptions and are brave enough to ask questions.

"This kind of curiosity will help us respond to the big problems of the world. That is the kind of curiosity we are looking for," Phakeng said.

The third ingredient she named is courage.

"[Our students] don't just settle into the known. They have the courage ... to be uncomfortable, to be unsettled."

And finally, having self-discipline is vital, according to the Vice-Chancellor.

A disciplined student knows the value of taking the initiative, of setting targets, creating their own deadlines and making sacrifices.

"Discipline sees the future ... discipline has goals and discipline works consistently."

Painting a picture of the kind of campus and community future students can expect at UCT, Phakeng told them they will be attending the only university in the world that is led by a vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellors who are all women.

"These are not people who were appointed because they are women. They were appointed because they are capable," she said, to cheers and applause.

Mental health challenges

Going on to address the challenges on campus around mental health, Phakeng spoke of the need for transparency, ownership and of the university's interventions. These include the pioneering Student Mental Health Policy, a first for South African higher education, and the Student Wellness Service (SWS).

"These are not people who were appointed because they are women. They were appointed because they are capable."

During the event, prospective students also got the opportunity to interact with representatives from the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC), who expanded on the university's services and interventions in respect not only of mental health, but also transformation, gender-based violence, disability and culture change.

Prospective students, parents, siblings, teachers and counsellors arrived for UCT's annual Open Day, held on the campus on Saturday, 4 May, for an introduction to life at the university.

Edwina Ghall, manager of the disability service within the OIC, said UCT offers a variety of services, including cultural change and gender diversity workshops, assistive devices, accessible transport, and testing for specific learning disabilities.

"There is a lot happening at our institution and it is an ideal place because it is a one-stop shop," she said.

Meanwhile, one of the most frequented stalls on the Plaza on Open Day was that of the Student Financial Aid Office, with team members fielding questions from learners about the three branches of funding opportunities: the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the university itself and external funders.

Margaret Jacobs, coordinator for student funding assessments, helped explain the differences and offered other insights on this priority issue.

"We provide continuing support for students because funding is always about the student in totality," she said.

This means that in addition to covering tuition, Student Financial Aid ensures that accommodation and mental health are also addressed. To achieve this, the financial aid office works closely with SWS.

Visitors and prospective students were also treated to a library tour, learning about the history of the UCT Libraries, the collections, support on offer and the staff they could expect to meet when they become students.

"When we see the students come in, we see these bright young faces and the future not only of UCT but of the country."

Principal librarian Glynnis Johnson confirmed they could expect to get assistance from people who are "absolutely committed to further education".

"When we see the students come in, we see these bright young faces and the future not only of UCT but of the country," she said.

"Best library in Africa"

Alex D'Angelo, also a principal librarian, added that students enjoy access to "probably the best library in Africa".

"We've got breadth, we've got depth, and our oldest [printed] book dates to 1471," he said.

The many notable facts about the library include that the university's database can be accessed from anywhere in the world, it houses books on all kinds of subjects and it is the major lender for Interlibrary Loans.

Referring to UCT being the best university in and for the continent, D'Angelo added that the library has been "building up a very strong African presence for many years".

"We are one of the major holders of African interest material, African writers [and] African scholarship you'll find anywhere," he said.

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