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The Durban University of Technology hosted the 2021 Strategic Risk Conversations on Higher Education (STRLC-HE) Conference virtually, last week Thursday and Friday, 02-03 September 2021.

The conference convened under the theme: Marrying the Science of Excellence with the Art of Risk (Leadership). DUT volunteered to host this prestigious event as it forms part of its ENVISION2030 which is to build mutually beneficial partnerships. By hosting this conference, the university aims to contribute towards broader collective efforts within the country seeking to deepen risk culture in the higher education sector.

The programme director for the opening session was Mr Alan Khan, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs at DUT. He welcomed and thanked the guests for investing their time and energy in joining the two-day virtual conference. His opening remark was filled with excitement since the first day of the conference also marked the announcement of the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THEWUR), which were announced in London. He congratulated DUT for retaining its Top 500 global rating in the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. DUT was named in the Top 5 of all South African universities for the second consecutive year. In the Citation category, DUT was ranked 1st in South Africa and 12th in the world. He reiterated that it was a remarkable achievement that has left the DUT Community immensely proud.

“This event was initially planned for 2020 but sadly the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our intentions to host an in-person event. However, we are delighted that we can meet and enjoy our conversations online for the next two days,” said Khan.

He introduced the first speaker, Professor Thandwa Mthembu, DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal who was appointed in October 2016, after serving almost 10 years in a similar position at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State.

“This conference convened with the theme: Marrying the Science of Excellence with the Art of Risk Leadership. Evidently there are two important notions on this theme that I hope speakers will pay attention to in their presentations. Excellence and risk leadership, I would add management too. Many of us have watched with dismay how excellence has been edited out of performance in our public sphere with activities being done merely to tick a box with less regard to advocacy, efficiency and impact and thus leading to devastating consequences. It could be that such substandard practices or subcultures took route because of the assumptions of permanence in leadership positions. All we know is that to live is to risk dying. Some organisations that lived and prominently so in the past few decades are no more, some still live but are gasping for air,” said Prof Mthembu.

He said the art and the science of anticipating questions like what if things go wrong is an important foundational tenets of leadership that is needed for the sustainability of organisations and nations.

“It is my wish that we don’t engage in this conference for narrow intellectual gratifications that most academics are known for. It is my wish that we will ripple with important and complex questions that higher education must resolve for the sustenance and common prosperity of our institutions, of our regions and of our country, of our continent too,” said Prof Mthembu.

The next speaker was Ms Nthabiseng Molongoana, Founding Director: Lentha’s Lodge whose presentation was titled: Re-framing the Disabilities Initiative into a Strategic Institutional Competitive Advantage. She is a woman with an impairment who made a success in facing challenges of disability after a taxi accident in 1994. She is currently employed by the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities as a Senior Manager responsible for Research and Development. Molongoana is passionate about the empowerment of women and persons with disabilities. She dedicates her life to assisting people to find healthy perceptions of themselves so that their lives can unravel.

Dr Maliga Reddy, the Associate Director in the Department of Public Management and Economics at DUT introduced Prof Sheena Kumari Pillai who is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Water and Waste Water Technology (IWWT) at DUT. Her presentation was based on water-based epidemiology for tracking COVID-19 infection dynamics in the community. She gave insight on IWWT’s remarkable work of tracking COVID-19 on wastewater.

Speaking on Turning around the Accountability Ship was Ms Vanuja Maharaj, Corporate Executive Auditor at General South Africa (AGSA). She is particularly grateful to be able to contribute towards the betterment of South Africa at a high level through the countless decisions that have to be made every day.

“It means a lot to me that I get to make a difference in this country through this office. We are always making high-level decisions that have a great impact on our country and I don’t take that lightly,” said Maharaj.

Dr David Mohale, Director of Special Projects at the Office of the Vice-Chancellor at DUT facilitated a thought-provoking panel discussion of the topic: Non-Executive Oversight- Unmasking the Paradox, where two speakers, Prof Philna Coetzee: Consultant at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and Mr Muhammad Seedat, Chairperson Institute of Directors Southern Africa shared their expertise.

Taking over as programme director was DUT’s Community Engagement Practitioner, Ms Phumzile Xulu who introduced Prof Nicolene Barkhuizen, a Full Professor at the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg. Prof Barkhuizen spoke on The Fluidity of Teeterin Between Eras: Glocal to Glonacal, and Generation to Generation. Her primary responsibilities revolve around research, teaching and learning and continuous education development. Associates describe Prof Barkhuizen as a thought leader, top performer, innovator and active team leader who can turn any workplace into a top-performing entity.

Another fascinating panel discussion was facilitated by DUT’s Senior Director: International Education and Partnerships, Dr Lavern Samuels. The topic was Corporate Governance Autonomy – an Artistic towards Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Sharing their input on the topic were Vice-Chancellor and Principal: University of Johannesburg, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala and Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Strategic Initiatives and Internationalisation at Stellenbosch University.

Dr Ivan Niranjan and postgraduate students from DUT’s Faculty of Health Sciences presented a virtual poster presentation based on COVID-19 and the risk assessment in the public transport. He said his students looked at how vulnerable people are in contracting the COVID-19 virus while using public transport.

The keynote address was delivered by the renowned Political Analyst, Prof Somadoda Fikeni, who is the Commissioner of the Public Service Commission. His address was titled: Key Note Address: Increasing Governance Risks in a highly contested-multi -Stakeholder political environment: the case of South African Universities.

“This talk is a reflection of all the accumulated experiences and what I consider to be an overarching risks that have enveloped our universities, hence my topic. The problem that South Africa today is facing, that out of the lack of courage and conviction, we search for risks, we search for problems in every space expect naming the elephant in the room, which becomes an overarching risk above all other risks, giving birth to other risks. Out of political correctness, we mender and avoid some of these topics, we look at what is safe, what is technically sound and we wonder why in our institutions the risk profile keeps growing. We have become prisoners of routine, rituals in our governance space, audit spaces and risk analysis spaces. That is why we don’t break the virtual circle of habits,” said Prof Fikeni.

Furthermore, he said the risk of a misdiagnosed risk due to political correctness and lack of intellectual tools to unpack what is unfolding at universities and society at large is a bigger risk than the profession and divisions of risk management. He said with the collapse of democracy within the participating stakeholders, whether students, unions, senate and others, saying the idea has been corrupted itself therefore the outcome would be a corrupted outcome.

“It became increasingly clear that this became a breathing ground for contested political environment in which academic projects were neglected. The biggest risk in any organisations is when your Human Resource is compromised, when that space is captured you see a decay and a decline of that institution,” said Prof Fikeni.

Day one of the conference was closed by DUT’s Chief Risk Officer, Mr Sikhuthali Nyangintsimbi who gave a brief overview of the day’s presentations.

The final day of the conference was also packed with robust presentations from the esteemed speakers. The opening was delivered by Prof Nokuthula Sibiya, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning who thanked the speakers and the guests for their meaningful contributions in making the conference a huge success.

The speakers included Prof Peter Goss, Managing Director of Peter Goss (Pty) Ltd who spoke on corruption. The panel discussion was chaired by Ms Nathi Mhlongo consisting of Chief Risk Officers, Ms Thobile Nyaba of Old Mutual and President of IRMSA, Ms Nicole Comininos of Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Mr Sikhuthali Nyangintsimbi of DUT. All gave insights of the risk management at their institutions.

Speaking on the recent unrests Prof Geoff Harris, Mr Crispin Hemson both from the International Centre of Nonviolence at DUT and Ms Dudu Shabane, Head of Department at JZ High School.

Ms M Motaung-Radebe, Senior General Manager, Internal Audit Services at KZN Provincial and Ms P Sibiya Chairperson, Audit and Risk Committee at Ithala Development Financial Corporation shared their expertise in their respected fields.

The founder: Branding and Marketing You, Ms Donna Rachelson spoke on the importance of one managing their personal brand. University of Free State’s Chancellor, Prof Bonang Mohale also gave his message of support to DUT on hosting this conference. Meanwhile DUT Midlands Campus Director Dr Joe Molete also spoke DUT Midlands exciting projects aiming to improving lives and livelihoods of the DUT Community and the society at large.

In closing Prof Sibusiso Moyo, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement at DUT delivered a heartfelt vote of thanks expressing her gratitude to the event organisers, esteemed speakers and guests for their inputs in making the conference a robust one.

Pictured: Some of the speakers at the DUT 2021 Strategic Risk Conversations on Higher Education (STRLC-HE) Conference.

Simangele Zuma

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