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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Professor Tawana Kupe at helm of an ever-expanding Tuks

Virgilatte Gwangwa 

THE University of Pretoria is the place to be, declares its new vice-chancellor, Professor Tawana Kupe.

Not only for him, but for its tens of thousands of students too.

It holds a number of special attributes, such as being the only university in South Africa to offer a sought-after degree in Veterinary Sciences, and its High Performance Centre is a sporting powerhouse.

But, most importantly for Kupe, who has taken over the position of VC and principal from Professor Cheryl de la Rey, is that it offers high-quality education across its faculties.

Speaking from the comfort of his new office in the administration building on Tuks’ main Hatfield campus, the 55-year-old Zimbabwean professor told the Pretoria News that he had been raised by teachers.

His mother was his Grade 1 and 2 teacher, while his father was the principal at the same school, later to become a school manager looking after 30 primary schools in his home country.

He said that from his time in high school, he knew he wanted to be a professor, just like his uncle. “My mother’s brother was a history professor and he would normally write me letters from New Zealand, Nigeria and the UK, where he worked.

“In the letters he would always tell me to value education, so when I was in high school, I would tell other guys that I was going to be a professor,” he recalled. After completing his Master’s degree in Zimbabwe, he was offered a tutoring post.

“When I finished (studying) I though I was going to be a teacher just like my parents, but when I went to bid farewell to my professors, they told me I could hang around and help with tutoring and marking, which I did.

“The first year into tutoring I had fun, and then people started giving me more and more work. By the end of the year one lecturer had resigned and I was told there would be a post advertised. I applied for the position and actually got the job from 1989.”

Six years later, Kupe completed a PhD in Media Studies at the University of Oslo, Norway, and returned to the University of Zimbabwe, where he worked in various departments before moving to South Africa to teach at Rhodes University.

Between 1991 and 2001 he was there, acting as the head of the Journalism and Media Studies department. Wits invited him to lecture on journalism and media studies, and he later helped to start their Media Studies department and became its first head, he said. Kupe said he was beyond excited to be joining the largest residential university.

“Tuks has 53000 students, followed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with 46000.

“This shows you that the university is responding to the national demand for higher education and the number is going to grow.

“If you come here in 2025, we will have 75000 students,” he said.

One of Kupe’s priorities is to step up the university’s transformation programmes to ensure that students pass and graduate in good time. The only way for this to happen is that they choose the right course – one that interests them rather than is driven by how much money they think they can earn.

Kupe said to ensure that they did not have a lot of drop-outs due to poor career choices, the university offered career counselling and guidance at their registration centre.

“Transformation is not just about demographics, more black students than white students, but it is about people passing and getting their degrees and finishing in time.”

He said 55% of Tuks students are black and more than half are female. “In the residences, 59% of students are black, but in people’s minds, Tuks is still a ‘white’ university.

“However, it is true that the transformation of academics has not been as fast as the transformation of students,” he said.

Under his leadership, Kupe said he wanted to ensure that students and staff felt safe, secure and free from any form of violation. “Part of our transformation programme is to mount advocacy programmes around gender-based violence, racism, homophobia and xenophobia among others.”

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