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Health faculty leads UCT on transformation—report


Transformation officer hire and broad engagement pushed faculty to the front at leading African university

The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town in South Africa is the institution’s highest achiever against its transformation targets. This is according to UCT’s Transformation Report 2021, released last week.

It’s the third year in a row that UCT produced the report, which measures the institution’s achievements against its benchmarks for transformation, diversity and inclusion. Titled ‘Fear, flame and metamorphosis: transformation, diversity and inclusion in uncertain times’, the report says the Faculty of Health Sciences is making standout progress.

The report uses criteria for transformation across a number of themes, including racial and gender staff diversity, student access and support, institutional responses to discrimination, and decolonisation of the curriculum.

“While no faculty or non-academic department met all the criteria of this benchmark, the Faculty of Health Sciences, Research Office and Faculty of Science came close,” the report notes.

“In 2021, the faculty hired a transformation officer who was placed in the deanery and provided both strategic and operational support to ensure the faculty’s transformation goals were achieved,” it says. The health science faculty also produced publications and academic engagements on race and decolonisation, among other social themes.

FHS also reported that it has created a post for a gender diversity specialist, who will be recruited in 2022. This role, the faculty said, will assist the university to strengthen its capacities concerning teaching, learning and research on sexual and gender diversity, and more broadly to create an affirming environment for LGBTQI+ persons and capable future healthcare professionals.

FHS was one of 13 UCT departments and faculties that submitted completed benchmark results in 2021. In a statement, the university said the annual reports have proved to be a “useful and standardised way to track actions” related to transformation, diversity and inclusivity.

Past struggles

In forewords to the report, senior UCT executives admit the university has struggled to truly implement its gender and racial equality ambitions.

Elelwani Ramugondo, deputy vice-chancellor of transformation, student affairs and social responsiveness, said UCT was still “grappling with the legacies of colonialism and apartheid”.

UCT’s embattled vice-chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, who faces an investigation over allegations that she misled the university’s senate and council about the reasons for departure of a senior executive, assured in her preface to the report that more initiatives are being put in place to create an academically inclusive environment.

“I also thank our Black academics, who have provided insights from their own lived experiences and made practical suggestions that we could implement,” she said, adding: “They have helped to bring us where we are today on UCT’s transformation journey.”

Phakeng denies wrongdoing in the matter for which she is under investigation.