Meet the recently appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), Professor Nokuthula Sibiya, who is a dynamic and inspiring role model to both staff and students. Her 26 years of teaching, and outstanding achievements and accolades are evidence of her driving passion for the teaching and learning profession at the institution.
Speaking on her appointment which she begins on 1 May 2020, Prof Sibiya shared that 26 years after the birth of democracy, South Africa continues its struggle for gender transformation and equality in the work place. “As an African woman, I am thankful to the DUT Council for affording me the opportunity to serve the university as the Deputy Vice Chancellor: Teaching and Learning. I feel excited to join the Top Executive Management of DUT to drive the teaching and learning jet of the ENVISION 2030,” she said elatedly.
Prof Sibiya joined DUT in August 2003 as a lecturer in the Department of Nursing. She graduated with her doctoral qualification in 2009. She then went on to serve as the Head of Department (HOD) of Nursing from 2011 to 2017. During her tenure as HOD, in 2017, she received from the Nursing Education Association (NEA) an Excellence Award for Leadership in Nursing Education for the successful implementation of an undergraduate nursing programme at DUT with a strong Primary Health Care (PHC) philosophical underpinning at a tertiary institution to address the shortage of nurses in the KwaZulu-Natal province. DUT was also the first university of technology to offer such a programme in South Africa.
She mentioned that the former DVC: Teaching and Learning, Professor Nomthandazo Gwele, previously Executive of the Faculty of Health Sciences was instrumental in securing a three million Rand grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies to set up the programme, located at Indumiso Campus. Prof Sibiya further said that the purpose of the grant was to strengthen a unique nurse training approach in rural primary health care (PHC) settings by bolstering DUT’s capacity and help it become a national model.
“The undergraduate nursing programme is a four-year Bachelor’s Nursing Degree which aims to prepare clinically focused and service oriented, independent professionals who are able to render nursing care in all spheres of health care (general, community health, mental health and midwifery). She indicated that as the Head of Department of Nursing then, she was responsible for providing a strategic direction to ensure the successful implementation of the programme.
Prof Sibiya stated that since 2014, this programme produces not less than 80 graduate nurses on an annual basis, statistically showing that this programme attracted the highest number of applicants at DUT.
“My plan in 2020 is to ensure that this programme receives full accreditation by the Council of Higher Education following its alignment to the new bachelor’s programme,” she said excitedly.
Elaborating more on her goals as the new DVC, she said that her role as the DVC: Teaching and Learning is to provide strategic leadership, management and coordination of the academic activities of the university. “Teaching and learning cuts across all four perspectives and 12 objectives of the DUT ENVISION 2030, which was approved by the Council in November 2019. For example, in collaboration with the Academic Executive Management Committee, I have to ensure that DUT offers distinctive education so as to produce adaptive graduates that will contribute in improving lives and livelihoods of the society,” she said.
Apart from developing programmes, Prof Sibiya has also served as Chairperson of the Forum of the University Nursing Deans of South Africa, 2016 to 2018, and Chairperson of the KZN Chapter of the Nursing Education Association (NEA) from February 2013 to 2016. For recognition of her scholarly contribution in PHC, in September 2015 she was inaugurated as a Fellow of the Academy of Nursing of South Africa. In 2017, Prof Sibiya was appointed as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. On 23 August 2018, at the South African Women in Science Awards Prof Sibiya was recognised by the Department of Science and Technology as the 2018 Distinguished Woman Scientist: Humanities and Social Sciences.
She has also received a number of research awards from DUT that include being the Top DUT Female Researcher of the Year, Top Researcher in the Faculty of Health Sciences. In 2019, she was awarded as the 2018 Senior Researcher of the Year. “I was humbled and honoured when I was awarded by DUT as the 2018 Senior Researcher of the Year, which was accompanied by a rewarding incentive. I had planned to use the hard-earned incentive to spoil and pamper the body and soul that keep me going from strength to strength. I also believe in sharing. I use my research output funds and incentives to support when necessary my postgraduate students,” said Prof Sibiya.
She was also awarded by the Forum of Professional Nurse Leadership as the 2019 Regional Nurse Leader. She is currently involved in a South African Medical Research Council funded project on evaluation of web based district health information systems and health patient registration system to monitor sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health indicators for universal health coverage.
Also, with a National Research Foundation (NRF) rating, Prof Sibiya is the author of 67 peer-reviewed publications, two books and 10 book chapters. In 2019 alone, she co-authored 13 peer reviewed articles. As the year 2020 started, she already has four co-authored publications in press. She has made more than 50 keynote and related presentations at national and international platforms. She has successfully supervised 13 doctoral and 52 master’s students. Even though Prof Sibiya will have a busy role as the new DVC, her commitment to her postgrad students will not falter. She currently supervises 26 (15 doctoral and 11 master’s) postgraduate students, and will continue to supervise these students to completion but as from 2021, she will tone down on postgraduate supervision of first time registered students so as to focus on her new role as the DVC. Besides postgraduate supervision, Prof Sibiya is involved in a collaborative project with the KZN Department of Health, which is funded by the South African Medical Research Council. “I have a responsibility of ensuring that this project is a success for the next three-year cycle,” she said.
Having the backing of her role models like her mom, who she affectionately addresses her by a maiden name, as maNdlovu, is not an academic but successfully plays her leadership role as a mother to her siblings. In academic life, her role model is her doctoral supervisor, Professor Gwele. “I still remember vividly the advice she gave me in 2014 when she joined DUT as the Executive Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences; she told me to always open my bag and work until late when everybody packs the bags at 16h00. This is the time I utilise for postgraduate supervision, writing of manuscripts and co-ordinating engagement projects when there are no phone calls and unannounced visitors who invade my work space. I believe in balancing my academic profile,” she added.
Prof Sibiya’s appointment also comes at a challenging time during the scourge of COVID-19 pandemic and the current lockdown period. “COVID-19 has affected each and every human species in the world. Although the period of lockdown has been put in place for the good course, this has resulted in slow productivity. I am privileged to be part of the DUT COVID-19 Response Task Team that is working around the clock to ensure that when the university resumes, measures are in place to ensure safety of the DUT community. The wellbeing of the DUT community – students, staff and their families and friends, is the priority of the university,” she stressed.
She also said that she has a responsibility of ensuring that teaching and learning is not compromised in 2020. “Equity is the biggest obstacle in preparing for emergency remote learning. I want to reassure the DUT community that the senior management is working tirelessly to figure out who will need devices and bandwidth before rolling out blended learning which entails integration of face-to-face and online instruction,” she said.
Prof Sibiya said the closure of the university not only interrupts teaching and learning; it also coincides with assessment time and this may result in postponement or cancellation of examinations. “This calls for the amendment of the university calendar, which will soon be shared with the university community. The class of 2020 will graduate virtually. The COVID-19 pandemic may affect the careers of this year’s university graduates,” she stressed.
Her words of advice she imparts to both students and staff on conquering COVID-19 is for the DUT community to stay at home and to maintain social distancing.
“Creating equitable learning opportunities is an essential aspect of remote learning; therefore, the university currently offers training on learning management systems; so I encourage staff and students to be part of training,” she said.
She further added that the university is exploring means of supporting staff and students who do not have the necessary devices and access to data. “As important key stakeholders, when I assume the new position, I will find space to meet with the representatives of the student body to explore their views on how best we could improve teaching and learning post-lockdown period,” said Prof Sibiya.
Prof Sibiya serves in a number of university structures, to list the few, Senate representative at Council, Senate representative for a two-year term on the Honorary Degrees Committee, Senate representative for a five-year term on the Electoral College for the election of the DUT’s Chancellor. She previously served as the Senate representative at the Institutional Forum and as Deputy Chairperson at the Institutional Research Ethics Committee.
Pictured: Professor Nokuthula Sibiya