Pretoria – Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula yesterday re-emphasised the university’s commitment to social justice and equity.
Delivering her opening address during the university’s 150 anniversary celebration, LenkaBula said the institution played a leading role in promoting democracy, human rights, and anti-apartheid activism.
“Today, Unisa continues to advocate for social justice and equality, both within the institution and in broader society.”
The event was attended by chancellor of Unisa and former president Thabo Mbeki, as well as chairperson of the the university’s council, Mashukudu J Maboa, and other dignitaries.
“Unisa looks to the future, and it will continue to build on its legacy of providing quality education to people across South Africa and beyond. This includes expanding our online learning offerings, increasing its research capacity, and strengthening its partnerships with other institutions and organisations,” LenkaBula said.
“With a rich history and a clear vision for the future, Unisa is well-positioned to continue to make a significant contribution to the social and economic development of South Africa, the African continent, and the world. We have come long way as an institution. In the end we shall prevail.
“Our students come from all over the world and it is important for me to greet you in all languages. Unisa has been committed to providing education to students who might not otherwise have had access to higher education.
“As a distance learning institution, Unisa has been able to reach people across the country, regardless of their location or social circumstances. It has also provided affordable education to students who might not have been able to afford tuition fees at traditional universities,” said LenkaBula.
The event focused on the university’s history, achievements, and future aspirations, with presentations from professors, alumni, and distinguished academic guests.
The cultural festivals celebrated the diversity of Unisa’s student body, with performances and exhibits showcasing different cultures from around the world.
In his address, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande said the event was a significant milestone in the history of South African higher education.
He said Unisa occupied a unique place in the annals of higher education history as the oldest university in the country.
Since its inception, the university had spawned into existence and supported the establishment and development of an illustrious list of other higher education institutions such as UCT, Stellenbosch, Fort Hare and many more, he said.
“With an incredible enrolment projected at 370 000-plus students across 130 countries in the world, Unisa is one the truly mega-universities in the world today. This is quite remarkable, given the relatively small population size of our country,” he said.
“Its major development took place in the post-war period, notably, from 1946 when it pioneered tertiary distance education across SA and the wider African continent, to and in 2004 after it incorporated Vista University and merged with Technikon SA to become a truly mega-university.”
Those who studied at Unisa today should thus be proud that they share an alma mater with many distinguished personalities, he said.
Deputy President Paul Mashatile said: “As we commemorate the 150th year of Unisa, the largest and oldest institution in sub-Saharan Africa, we should reflect on how Unisa has contributed to shaping Africa’s intellectual future.
“Unisa is an example of accessible education; by offering distance learning programmes, you have touched many people who would not otherwise be able to visit your campuses across the continent. This includes establishing centres in other nations, such as Ethiopia, which hosts the African Union’s headquarters.
“Currently, Unisa has one of the highest enrolment rates of any African country.”
Mashatile said the government was pleased that this institution had been able to adjust to changes consistent with the current generation, also known as “digital natives”.
“It is a cause for celebration that your institution has been a pioneer and a driving force behind the transformation of education.
“We strongly recommend that you maintain your pioneering position in encouraging other organisations to embrace and rapidly adopt the use of technology, as you did during the Covid pandemic,” he said.
“Your commitment to remaining flexible in the face of societal shifts is evinced in the breadth and depth of your institution’s degree, diploma, and certificate programmes.
“Today, we commend the university for having six academic colleges and more than 350 000 students, making it one of the world’s most diverse universities.“
One of Unisa’s greatest assets was its dedication to making education accessible to students from diverse backgrounds across Africa, he said.
“By leveraging technology and innovative teaching methods, the university has overcome geographical barriers and expanded access to higher education for individuals who might not have had it otherwise, due to their socio-economic circumstances.
“This inclusiveness has been instrumental in cultivating a diverse population of leaders, ensuring that African voices and perspectives are represented in influential and decision-making positions all over the world.
“In essence, Unisa has been instrumental in transforming education by advocating for change, innovation and equity, and using technology to transform the way we learn.
“As you continue to shape and reclaim Africa’s intellectual futures, as the government we will continue to partner with you so that we can contribute immensely to an improved education system towards the National Development Plan 2030, thus the Sustainable Development Goals more so of equitable and equal education in the fight against poverty and women’s emancipation.”
In a pre-recorded message, actress and musician Mama Abigail Kubeka said: “Happy birthday to Unisa, and many more to come.”
Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, of the EFF, also wished the university well and said it was a big milestone. He wished the students, alumni, and the institution well for the achievement.