BY: Sisanda Mbolekwa.
Deputy President Paul Mashatile has hailed the University of South Africa (Unisa) for transforming into an institution of higher learning that is committed to quality and universal education accessible to all Africans.
Mashatile said the instruction of the Freedom Charter was to ensure the free exchange of ideas, the encouragement of cultural expression, and free, compulsory, universal and equal education for all.
The deputy president was speaking at the institution’s 150th birthday commemoration in Pretoria on Monday, which he described as an “extraordinary achievement”.
“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 by asking difficult questions about Unisa’s future contribution to a better Africa and the world,” he said.
Unisa was an example of accessible education by offering distance learning programmes, Mashatile said, adding that the university has touched many people who would not otherwise be able to visit its campuses across the continent.
“This includes establishing centres in other nations, such as Ethiopia, which hosts the AU’s headquarters.”
The institution’s commitment to remaining flexible in the face of societal shifts is evinced in the breadth and depth of the institution’s degree, diploma and certificate programmes, said Mashatile.
“Today we commend the university for having six academic colleges and over 350,000 students, making it one of the world’s most diverse universities.
“One of Unisa’s greatest assets is its dedication to making education accessible to students from diverse backgrounds across the African continent.”
By leveraging technology and innovative teaching methods, the university has overcome geographic barriers and expanded access to higher education for individuals who might not have had it otherwise due to their socioeconomic circumstances, he said.
“This inclusivity 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.”
“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.”
Unisa has continuously prioritised African leadership and development in its mission and vision, he said.
“Throughout its 150 years of history, the university has been a key driver in developing the next generation of African leaders and stimulating socioeconomic advancement on the continent. Recognising Africa’s unique challenges and abundant opportunities, Unisa has actively worked to equip individuals with the information, skills and mindset necessary to lead and drive intellectualism.”
Mashatile thanked the university for having played a “critical role” in establishing African leadership and development agendas through its unique curriculum, research projects and community participation.
“While we acknowledge the strides that have been made towards transforming education in South Africa, the task ahead is still considerable. We must continue to work towards closing the education gap and ensuring that every child has the same opportunities.”
The celebration was also attended by former president and chancellor Thabo Mbeki, higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande and university vice-chancellor Puleng LenkaBula, among others.
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