4 highlights of the debate on the transformation of universities – Jimmy Manyi vs. Adam Habib of WITS


You can bet your bottom Rand that any debate on transformation of educational institutions in the country, and indeed in any area, is bound to stoke emotions in some way. And the one held at the Ivy League, WITS University was no exception. The controversial Jimmy Manyi, whose candour and dedication to the cause have rubbed others the wrong way in recent years, faced Adam Habib, the Vice-Chancellor of WITS University, an institution whose transformation initiatives have achieved mixed results. The two disagreed on some points and agreed to disagree on others. Such was the vigour of their engagement.

The following thought-provoking points emerged:

1)    Habib: “A university is born in the nation but is also a product of the globe. While the role of the university is to create people who are appropriately equipped to meet the needs of the country, it is also tasked with turning young people into citizens of the 21st century – people who can handle both diversity and the cosmopolitan nature of the world in which they are likely to be living.”


2)      Habib: “You must have an international profile as a university. The great universities of the world do not accurately map the demographics of their countries. For instance, at the London School of Economics, 52% of the students are foreigners from other countries.”


3)      Manyi: “Transformation is about more than changing the colour of an institution – it involves fundamental alterations to the nature of the institution.Wits university is operating on a framework defined centuries ago which may not be appropriate to a transformed South Africa. Just to illustrate on the essence of transformation: a butterfly starts as an egg, becomes a caterpillar and then pupates to emerge as a winged creature, quite different from either the egg or the caterpillar.”


4)    Habib: “A university is not the same as a factory or fishing company, where you wanted to see, as Manyi suggested, provincial companies reflecting provincial demographics and national organisation reflecting national demographics – a university has a different goal.”

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