Dear Fellow Alumni,
When days are dark, friends are few – at least according to the classics. Stellenbosch University (SU) has turned this old adage on its head amidst the turmoil and difficulties that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing national state of disaster and prolonged period of lockdown. I am happy to report that we have recently received substantial support from individual donors, industry leaders as well as local and international trusts and foundations, signalling their unwavering confidence in SU as a leader in higher education on our continent.
We are immensely grateful for this support, which will help us nurture close relationships with our stakeholders as a national asset serving the whole of society. Allow me to briefly cite a few telling examples, while at the same time acknowledging each and every donation, large or small. In doing so, I follow the example of American television host David Letterman, who always used to close the Late Show with a “Top Ten List”. Here is my selection of recent highlights:
1. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), a philanthropic non-profit organisation based in the US, has made a significant grant to SU for tailored academic and psychosocial support for students who are vulnerable and at risk of not graduating or moving on to their next year of study. This will bolster the academic support that we provide to our students to ensure that they stay on course with their studies, despite challenges they might face.
2. This has been complemented by a substantial donation from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust in support of SU’s rapid and successful switch to emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment in order to complete the academic year successfully. The grant provides design capacity for online learning materials, enables the development of online assessment protocols, and ensures a well-coordinated tutor and mentorship programme.
3. The Harry Crossley Foundation has confirmed a special COVID-19 grant, which will enable us to further expand the tutoring provided to students at SU. Tutoring and mentoring have been linked to academic success the world over, and this has certainly been our experience at SU as well.
4. DeepMind, a London-based world leader in artificial intelligence research and its real-world applications, has announced that its first postgraduate scholarships in Africa will be awarded to students at SU. The company forms part of Google. These scholarships will boost much-needed postgraduate research in applied mathematics, statistics, electrical and electronic engineering and computer science on our continent.
5. MSDF has also made a major grant towards the digitalisation of the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) of Tygerberg Hospital, a close partner of our Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. The ground-breaking system will capture data through the use of cameras, tablet computers and voice and electronic notes onto a central database that will enable specialists to monitor patients remotely. The benefits of this investment will continue to be felt long after the current pandemic has abated.
6. We are delighted by the enthusiastic response to our #MaskedMasterpieces public art project, which is helping to bring visitors back to Stellenbosch under level 2 of the lockdown regulations. Contributions of time, talent and treasure continue to stream in from corporates, individuals, alumni and friends of the University (including Investec and Stellenbosch Mayor Gesie van Deventer, to name just a few). All funds raised will go towards bursaries for students in the “missing middle”.
7. A big shout out-to all our loyal staff members who have contributed selflessly to the University – not only through their tireless efforts in learning and teaching, research and innovation and social impact, but also through donations to the SU COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was launched in May. Some have upped their regular donations to the University; others donated for the first time. Thank you, colleagues!
8. Well done to our youngest fundraiser, five-year old Mikey Allcock (his mum, Candice Egan, works in our Development and Alumni Relations Division.) This intrepid youngster has walked 50 km in support of SU’s #Train4Fees campaign! The aim is to raise funds for a diverse group of 75 student athletes who have lost financial backing due to the impact of COVID-19. The campaign has received phenomenal support so far – more than 100 individuals have created fundraising projects and more than 400 donations have been received, prompting an extension of the deadline to 31 August.
9. Record amounts have been raised from donors this year. Donations received for the period January to June 2020 are 51% higher compared to the corresponding period in 2019. Our deepest gratitude to our donors for their assistance in this challenging time. We consider it an endorsement of the quality of SU’s academic offering, the calibre and outputs of our research projects and the importance that we place in support to our students.
10. Which brings me to my final point – another vote of confidence in SU, this time not by donors but by prospective students who want to enrol with us. Since the opening of applications for undergraduate studies in March, we closely monitored trends to determine whether the coronavirus pandemic would have a negative impact on our numbers. But it was quite the opposite. Completed applications increased by 9%, and our provisional offers to candidates by 7%.
We will not waiver in our commitment to deliver sought-after graduates equipped to help our country, our continent and the rest of the world meet future challenges. The confidence shown in us also obliges us to maintain our impeccable institutional reputation for good governance and business ethics. I am sure I speak for the whole SU community when I say these are responsibilities that we proudly assume.
Prof Wim de Villiers
Rector and Vice-Chancellor