Opening Academic Year 2021/2022
The theme of this year's Opening of the Academic Year is: 'Transforming Universities'.
Ours is still considered a young university, and one that is true to its principles. And yet, today’s UM would be difficult to recognise and navigate for its founders from 45 years ago. That is by no means a bad thing – universities are not monoliths, but organic communities that constantly need reinventing and reinvigorating. Transformation is baked into our foundation.
Dedicated to solving the big societal questions and to having a positive impact on the region into which we are embedded, we take our cues from society – a society to which we belong and to which we respond and adapt; a society that produces the bright young people who leave their mark on how we do things and how we view things. In turn, we provide solutions and help turn those young people into critical thinkers and experts who will make a positive difference in society. We generate new knowledge; and new knowledge constantly inspires us and forces us to transform, to evolve.
Transformation always implies leaving behind something known in favour of moving towards something new and unknown. This is as scary as it is necessary. The pandemic forced us into a hyper-accelerated transition to becoming a university that offers all educational activities online. From Problem-Based Learning to internationalisation, we have always been proud to be pioneers in the transformation of higher education. Our history and values have encouraged us to take the bold decision to lead the founding of the first truly European University.
During the Opening of the Academic Year, we will reflect on how UM is transforming, how we adapt and innovate as a response to the course of events, but also how we can be change-makers and transform society to contribute to a safer and brighter future.
Mamokgethi Phakeng will provide this year’s keynote lecture. She is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and a professor of mathematics. In addition to a distinguished academic career, both as a researcher and as a leader, she is a critical thinker who has delivered keynote lectures and other crucial contributions at international conferences all over the world. She holds a PhD in Mathematics Education from the University of Witwatersrand, an Honorary Doctorate in Science from the University of Bristol, and has been awarded, among others, the titles of most influential woman academic in Africa and Businesswoman of the Year.
She has won numerous awards for her research and community work, including the Order of the Baobab conferred on her by the President of South Africa. In addition to being a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and the African Academy of Sciences, she serves as a board member on the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Among many other services to educational foundations, she is a trustee at the South African Student Solidarity Foundation for Education. She founded a non-profit organisation that provides financial and educational support to students from township and rural areas.
As a leader in higher education, Kgethi, as she is popularly known, has always been on the forefront of transformation in education, research and society.
During the academic session in the afternoon, the winners of the Wynand Wijnen prize and the Student Award will be honoured. In addition, the Dissertation prize and Edmond Hunstinx prize will be awarded – these prizes were due to be awarded during the Dies Natalis 2020. However, because of the pandemic, all awards and honours were moved to the Opening of the Academic Year.
UM will bestow an honorary doctorate on Jaap van Dissel. This had already been decided early in 2020, in the run-up to the 45th Dies Natalis but, again, had to be postponed due to safety concerns around the pandemic.
Jaap van Dissel is professor of internal medicine at Leiden University, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Control at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), and chairman of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). He is to receive the honorary doctorate for his public role communicating scientific insights from his field around COVID-19 to policymakers and the public under very difficult circumstances.
UM’s new strategic plan will be officially launched following the morning programme, during which an expert panel will discuss key aspects of UM’s vision for the future.
Professor Jaap van Dissel