THE UNIVERSITY OF MPUMALANGA (UMP)

UMP was established in 2013 and stands as a symbol of the ambitions of the new South African society. Professor Thoko Mayekiso, Vice-Chancellor discusses the university’s leadership role within the academic sphere, its commitment to providing education of the highest standards and a vibrant student experience for all and cultivating responsible student leaders

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In a region thirsty for learning, UMP assumes a leadership role in providing the Province and the country with academic avenues for advancement.

“The university endows its presence with the promise and potential of the region to confirm its rightful place in the knowledge economy of our country and continent. With unique programmes designed to match the features and character of the Mpumalanga Province, UMP’s goal is to attract students and academics from across the country and continent, offering specialised, niche areas of study that will provide an academic environment of the highest standard, inspiring both students and staff, cementing UMP’s place among the country’s institutions of higher learning,” says Prof. Mayekiso.

UMP is positioning itself as an African University, which is spearheading the creation of opportunities for sustainable development through innovation.

Being a new university, free from the constraints of the colonial mindset, it has the enviable opportunity to create a university with a unique character that is informed by our context and the broader struggles of the African people. Relevance and responsibility are the key drivers of its pioneering journey and guide the university’s curriculum development, research and engagement projects.

“One of the milestones reached in 2017 is through the Graduation Ceremony of the first cohort of students who were enrolled in 2014, that was officiated by our Chancellor, Honourable Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa,” says Prof. Mayekiso.

At the core of UMP’s vision is the creation of a vibrant student life. The university continues to offer its students life-changing experiences through high-quality curricula and co-curricula programmes, which promote excellence, foster creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit.

“The university’s commitment to the promotion of a vibrant student experience at UMP continues to be visible through the different ways in which students are supported to that end. This support for students includes, but is not limited to, the continued development of student leadership in an effort to empower them in the execution of their function.

“The recent visit of the Dean of Students to Strathmore University in Kenya, Nairobi, where he took with him the SRC President, the SRC Secretary General and the SRC Sports and Recreation Officer, is an example of this,” she proudly explains.

Prof. Mayekiso says the purpose of the visit to Strathmore University, which is one of the top universities in Kenya, was to benchmark with that university on Student Affairs practices to further inform and enrich their own strategies and processes.

By their own account, the three SRC members indicated that they had learnt much during their visit and would be implementing what they had learnt, which includes valuing the university facilities and resources at their disposal.

In his report about the visit, the SRC President said: “I have learnt that to destroy can take one day but constructing takes many days. I should avoid destroying things around me and keep developing instead of regretting and living a life of repairing all that I have destroyed.”

This statement is in line with the university’s move to develop responsible student leaders.

“The establishment of active student societies is another approach towards promoting a vibrant student experience at UMP through which students are engaged in activities that contribute to the development of their communities.

“The UMP ENACTUS Team, which was established towards the end of 2016, put the university on the map when, just recently in this month of July 2017, it competed in the ENACTUS SA National competition where teams from 26 universities and private colleges in South Africa participated,” explains Prof. Mayekiso.

ENACTUS is an international movement where university students come up with community development projects, which respond to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. ENACTUS UMP presented two projects this year.

“The first project, Project Hatching Hope, involves six beneficiaries from the Community of KaMsogwaba and KaBokweni in Mbombela. These beneficiaries include the Moses Sihlangu Orphanage Centre in KaBokweni. Beneficiaries were provided with 15 chickens and two roosters per beneficiary, all free range.

“Each chicken lays one egg per day, on average. The beneficiaries now have a business opportunity where they sell the eggs and make an income. They also have access to proteins from the eggs which they consume.

“The second project is an IT Application System, which is developed by our ICT students for the Mbombela Local Municipality to assist with the management of the informal trade sector. Both our projects won and took honours in their categories at the ENACTUS National competition held in Sandton on 11 and 12 July 2017,” Prof. Mayekiso says.

The development of responsible students at UMP is not only limited to student leadership but takes a holistic approach, which targets all students by addressing different areas of personal development.

Prof. Mayekiso says the university management has come up with the “Love My Campus” Campaign, which will be launched in the month of September 2017. This campaign aims to promote the love of the university by all and, in so doing, all will be responsible university family members who value the university property and grounds.

This all-year-round project will ensure that students and staff value, maintain and further promote their love for their university.

“The campaign will be run in both the Mbombela and Siyabuswa Campuses of the university.

“The involvement of students in this campaign ensures the development of responsible members of society and future leaders of our country,” she says.

August is women’s month and to celebrate our women, the university will hold a Women’s Breakfast on 10 August, which will provide them with an opportunity to motivate one another as UMP women.

Events of a similar nature are being planned for female students at both the university’s campuses, Mbombela and Siyabuswa.“My message to the women is that they must achieve and should share their aspirations and dreams with others,” Prof. Mayekiso adds.

UMP, as is the case with other higher education institutions nationally and internationally, is struggling to recruit women to senior academic and support positions.

“We have realised this requires us to adopt more creative approaches to recruitment, staff development and retention that focus not only on talent but also on unleashing potential. My responsibility as the Vice-Chancellor is to support the creation of an enabling environment in which students and staff can reach their potential,” she says.

In terms of the challenges facing higher education, which has become a contested terrain, Prof. Mayekiso says a leader with emotional intelligence who will be able to engage meaningfully with multiple stakeholders often with competing demands is required.

Professor Thoko Mayekiso obtained a BA, BA Honours, and MA in Psychology from the University of Fort Hare. She furthered her studies at the Free University of Berlin in Germany, where she obtained her DPhil (cum laude) in Psychology. She also holds a Higher Education Diploma (postgraduate) from the University of South Africa. Additionally, she is a registered Clinical Psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

In her sterling academic career, Prof. Mayekiso has held the positions of Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor, Professor, Head of Department, and Vice Dean at the then University of Transkei. She practised as Honorary Clinical Fellow at the Greenwood Institute of Child Health, University of Leicester and simultaneously served as a Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Medical Psychology at Leicester General Hospital in the United Kingdom. The South African University Vice-Chancellors Association and the American Council on Education awarded her a fellowship, which was tenable at the University of Washington, Seattle.

She then joined the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 2001 where she served as Head of School, Deputy Dean, and then Acting Executive Dean in the Faculty of Humanities. She proceeded to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2007, as an Executive Dean in the Faculty of Arts, and then Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Engagement) in 2009. She is a C3 rated scientist by the National Research Foundation. On 1 November 2014, she was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mpumalanga.

Professor Mayekiso explains there are countless people along her journey who encouraged, motivated, inspired, taught, cajoled, nudged, mentored, and coached her along life’s path.

Her late parents, Sitututu and Nozipo, laid a firm foundation and instilled in her the importance of education.

Her parents played sport and her father reached the highest levels possible at the time in cricket and tennis. They imbued her with the love for reading and piqued her own interest in sport. They encouraged her to focus on tasks at hand and stay disciplined in all that she does.

She credits her parents with inculcating in her, values as well as political discretion, which proved to be useful throughout her leadership journey. By doing so, they allowed her space to grow and discover principles and practices germane to growth and development. They were role models of the importance of supporting people judiciously.

“One of the leadership lessons I have learned is summarised by Warren Buffet when he says: ‘Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.’” She concludes.

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