Reflections: 2016

Will there ever be another year like 2016?

Globally, it was not forecast that Brexit or a Trump presidency would happen. Locally, we had municipal elections with the governing party losing key metros for the first time since democracy. Leicester City won the English Premier League, the Springboks lost against Italy for the first time and the untouchable 400m world record was smashed by one of our own heroes, Wayde van Niekerk. Indeed the black swans became the only swans in the pond in 2016.

In contrast, within an inadequately funded South African higher education sector, student protests alongside public hearings to find sustainable funding solutions became the norm. Government announced that an additional R 17.6 billion will be made available to the sector in 20171. Universities have announced tuition fee increases not exceeding 8%, in line with Minister Blade Nzimande’s recommendation2, while NSFAS has worked tirelessly with private sector stakeholders to formulate business models to make more funding available to the sector.

Although the student protests were expected, the extent of damage to university property in excess of R600 million3, (who can forget the images of the North-West University’s science building being torched), the violent nature of the protests and the number of students arrested, were not part of the script.

The departures of Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State and the announcement of the imminent departure of Professor Ihron Rensburg, vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, were further surprises of 2016. Both vice-chancellors shared their insights at our Higher Education conferences in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

In the midst of all of this, let us congratulate Professor Ahmed Bawa who was appointed CEO of Universities South Africa in May, Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, who was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare in its centenary year and Professor Francis Petersen, who was appointed in December as the vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State. Congratulations also to the Sol Plaatje University, which had its first graduation ceremony in 2016.

Our thought leadership publication Does the future add up ? – Perspectives and points of view from PwC, emphasised some universal truths about the uncertain times we are facing:

  • Each educational institution needs to get clever about costs;
  • There should be a renewed focus on third-stream revenue; and
  • The new playbook for leadership requires a multi-stakeholder approach.

There is no doubt that public interest in the South African higher education sector is at an all-time high with Twitter followers tripling in the space of two years to more than 529 000, while more than 22 000 official university tweets were sent in 2016. This trend is likely to continue in 2017.

Now, more than ever, the words of our former president, Nelson Mandela, ring true: Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. In an unpredictable world, let us work together in 2017 towards achieving this worthy goal.


  1. Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, 26 October 2016
  2. 2017 University Fees media briefing, 19 September 2016
  3. Department of Higher Education statement, 8 June 2016 and Universities South Africa statement, 27 September 2016
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