15 April 2015
South Africa’s newest university – the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University – demonstrated the government’s commitment to education and skills development, President Jacob Zuma said at the official opening on Tuesday.
SMU, which has been built on the premises of the old Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa in Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria, is South Africa’s first “standalone health sciences university”, Zuma said. It offers certificates, diplomas, degrees and post-graduate programmes.
Zuma said the government will continue to invest in education and skills as the key to economic growth and development. Two new universities were opened in 2014: the Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape and the University of Mpumalanga. Both provinces did not previously have a university.
“South Africa today is faced with an extensive shortage and an inadequate distribution of health professionals. We have an undersupply of new and appropriately trained health science graduates, which is why we need to focus intensively on producing this important health professional core,” he said.
The university is named after former ANC president Sefako Makgatho, who, Zuma said, “dedicated his entire life to improving the human condition of the African masses in our country, in a noble, altruistic and gallant manner.
“The university is named after a gallant son of the South African soil. It must promote the legacy of Sefako Makgatho by producing appropriately qualified, highly skilled and patriotic human resources for health.”
Zuma said SMU provided an excellent opportunity for the development and training of a new generation of health professionals, who would make a positive difference in the lives of the many South Africans still marginalised by poverty and lack of access to health services.
He said the new university would go beyond only training medical doctors and would produce other health professionals such as dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, medical technologists and radiographers.
The new university also improves access to higher learning. Around 25% of South Africans are expected to be engaged with further study by 2030. The university has 5 034 students enrolled. Its projected growth is to have 7 000 students by 2019, and 10 000 students by 2024.
“We are really forging ahead in providing more opportunities and a better future for our youth and our people in general,” Zuma said.
The university would recruit students from communities with the greatest health-care needs, and provide innovative training programmes, including distance programmes, he said.
A university subsidy of more than R298-million had been allocated to support the university operations for the 2015/16 financial year. An additional amount of R210- million has been made available to support the establishment of the new university.
Zuma said universities should ensure that they offered a range of courses and programmes that would meet the needs of the economy. “We also encourage our learners to take up mathematics and science as more opportunities are now available for further study for them in this field. We are also investing in teacher training so that we can produce students for Sefako Makgatho from our high schools,” he said.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said the university must aim to be judged against the best in the world.
He said the department had started making funding available for Masters and PhD students, but had not receive anticipated number of applications. The department has set aside about R145-million for academics.
Nzimande said his department would also make funding available for entry-level posts at universities. Students “are going to sign an agreement that says, if we have supported you as government for three years, you are going to come back and teach at a university for three years, we will create a post for you”.
Introduction of new programmes
Professor Olive Shisana, chair of the SMU Interim Council, said about 15 new programmes would offered by the university in the future to address the gaps identified in the South African health sector.
Although the university would lead with health science programmes, it would not kill what other universities were currently offering, she said.
Shisana said the university was developing relationships with international institutions: “We brought in an international advisory committee that includes people from universities in Brazil, Washington, Uganda and the president of the Medical Council in South Africa, among others. We did this because this university is expected to provide trainees who are going to support the health system that is coming up.”
Shisana said the university would also offer short courses for health-care professionals who wanted to expand their skills and knowledge.