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University of KwaZulu-Natal: Inspiring Greatness with Academic Excellence

University of KwaZulu-Natal

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Formed in January 2004 as a result of the merger between the University of Durban-Westville and the University of Natal, the University of KwaZulu-Natal is one of the prominent and most admired universities in the region—bringing together the rich histories of both the former universities.

It is a multi-campus, residential, teaching, and research-led University located in the picturesque province of KwaZulu-Natal. Moreover, it has a proud and rich heritage of academic excellence. The year 2010 marked the centenary of higher education in the province of KwaZulu-Natal—a centenary of scholarship, innovation, and community engagement. The vast wealth of knowledge production lies at the heart of the University’s success as one of the top institutions in the African continent.

Ranked amongst the Best

The University is structured on a College model, each comprising academic Schools within which Disciplines offer a comprehensive range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs across five campuses. Innovative curricula, dynamic teaching and learning, state-of-the-art laboratories, and accredited professional degrees have earned the University a reputation as one of the leading institutions in the continent. Research activities span the natural, biomedical, humanities, and social sciences.

For its hands-on academic programs, the University is rated among the Top 500 Universities of the World according to the Academic Rankings of World Universities (ARWU). Moreover, in June 2020, the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) put UKZN in the top 2.4% of the universities worldwide, placing it at 477 out of 20,000 universities globally. The rankings are based on an assessment of key academic and institutional indicators, including the quality of education, alumni employment, research output, and citations.

Additionally, UKZN was placed 71 globally by 2020 Times Higher Education (THE) Young University Rankings—a 15 position advancement since 2019. It is the only African University featuring in the top 100 of the rankings. These rankings assess research-intensive universities across all their core missions—teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.

Emphasizing Research and Diversity

UKZN boasts prestigious South African Science and Technology Research Chairs that range from Quantum Information Processing to Gravitating systems, placing it fourth in the country for such Chairs. The University boasts a good number of NRF “A” listed researchers—the fifth highest in the country. UKZN takes pride in teaching and learning and its student matters transcend the social, cultural, and academic discourse across the disciplines. It encourages and embraces diversity in all facets of the student experience.

Additionally, UKZN’s scientists play an integral role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. The Center of AIDS Research in South Africa (CAPRISA)—one of the largest HIV and AIDS research centers—is located at the University’s Medical School Campus. Other major research centers in HIV AIDS include the Africa Center for Health and Population Studies and the multi-million rand KwaZulu-Natal research Institute for HIV and Tuberculosis (K-RITH). Recently, UKZN’s students smashed the African Hybrid Rocket Altitude Record. Moreover, the University’s professor Steve Johnson obtained an A1 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Moreover, the University offers entrant merit scholarships ranging from R20000 to R50000 in value. These are rewarded to the first-time entering students who are declared top achievers in their matric pass results. Then there are a number of postgraduate scholarships sponsored by the National Research Foundation. These are advertised regularly on University notices.

Stability, Security, and Sustainability

Professor Nana Poku (Vice-Chancellor and Principal at UKZN) is a British National with all his higher education degrees from universities in the United Kingdom—including his doctorate in International Political Economy. He was Acting Vice-chancellor and Principal for eight months before being appointed to the Vice-chancellor and Principal’s position in June 2019. His vision is to ensure that the University is stable and secure and that its operations are sustainable—coupled with building on the institution’s considerable strengths and honoring its responsibilities as a public University.

Over the past year, Professor Poku has been working relentlessly to convert the University’s grand strategy into actionable initiatives with clear targets, assigned responsibilities, and lines of accountability. The restoration of the University’s intellectual heart with everything being done in the service of knowledge generation is at the center of Professor Poku’s transformative agenda. “The purpose of UKZN—and every University—is to be the engine driving human betterment,” he added.

Being Proactive

The onset of COVID-19 motivated the University to be constantly alert and put in place proactive and pro-response mechanisms to combat diseases and illness. This led to the launch of the COVID-19 War Room. A team of health and medical experts of the University instituted large-scale high-level surveillance, prevention, and response measures to ensure it was ready when the pandemic was detected in the University’s vicinity.

The plan offered a cohesive, coordinated strategy for preparedness and required every one of us to get involved. We believed that prevention was better than cure,” says Professor Poku. Due to the high concentration of people on its campuses, prevention and protection against the spread of the disease were critical. UKZN, therefore, became one of the pioneers of the fight against COVID-19.

Embracing Online Learning

Heeding the pandemic, UKZN worked on an online teaching and learning plan to ensure students could learn despite the challenges of the COVID-19 lockdown. Ensuring that no student was left behind, the University conducted a geo-mapping study that helped discover that some of the students in remote rural communities faced challenges with internet connectivity. UKZN also arranged the delivery of printed material for them to continue to study from home.

Some students had challenges with living environments that were not conducive to study. During level 3 of the national lockdown, the University invited them back to the campus when it was safe to do so. In the academic year 2020, online learning was the primary mode of learning and teaching at UKZN. There were necessary exceptions where controlled laboratory/practical sessions were mandatory. There were no contact lectures and continuous assessment prevailed in the majority of modules. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, 2020 forced many organizations and sectors—including higher education—to be creative and devise unconventional ways to operate. This has presented several opportunities for all to change and explore innovative ways of doing things. Thriving through the shift, UKZN moved from the traditional, physical form of doing things to virtual graduations, online meetings, and webinars. It turned up well for the University and saved time.

University of KwaZulu-Natal

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