Mr. Vice Chancellor;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To address so many leaders of distinction in so many fields, along with the representatives of so many governments, would be an honour at any time. But when such a gathering has been drawn together to jointly address a challenge of great importance, then the event is a truly remarkable one. And I am deeply honoured to be a part of it.
When South Africa set out on the path of reconstruction and development, we faced many tasks, all of them difficult and none that were to be lightly or quickly achieved.
That applies with particular force to the daunting challenges in education. Apartheid created a crisis in education and training of immense proportions.
We can say with pride, after four years of freedom, that we have as a nation laid the foundation for the education system which our people deserve, and that the building has begun. We now have a unified school system open to all learners. The framework for the transformation of the higher education system has been created.
This is, of course, only a start and the greatest challenges still lie ahead, whether it be in making good the backlogs and imbalances; in building capacity to manage our educational system; or, above all, in shaping curricula that will produce the skills and knowledge for development and sustained growth in a competitive world.
The legacy of neglect and discrimination is only too apparent in the Northern Province. In a pattern repeated over and over again in our country, it is an area of high unemployment that has to import skilled labour from other areas.
It is an area where children eager to acquire skills are packed into make-shift classrooms or gather for classes in the shade of trees.
It is an area whose university has about 50 per cent more students than it was built for and which in 1996 had to turn away 70 000 applicants.
And yet tonight is also an occasion for celebration, a celebration of the capacity to transform adverse conditions into the means for achieving our goals.
Although the University of the North was intended by its founders to entrench the enforced social divisions of apartheid, it came instead to nurture national leaders in the struggle for freedom. Today its graduates are found in government, in academic life, in business, and in the professions as leaders of the even more difficult struggle for reconstruction and development.
And today true to that tradition, it gives us further cause for celebration. Amidst the travails of changing times, transformation, and limited resources it has developed an educational facility with the potential to set a new benchmark for our country’s tertiary institutions into the next millennium.
That vision is embodied in Edupark.
Apartheid bequeathed us a higher education system that was fragmented, rife with disparities and replete with duplication: between historically black and white universities; private and state institutions, country and urban seats of learning; national and international accreditation; between Technikons, Technical Colleges and Universities. Each facility has its campus, its own costly infrastructure, its competing programmes. And yet all of them together are unable meet all our diverse language, labour and intellectual needs.
Edupark is intended to cut across the duplication. It builds on our academic relations with other countries.
By facilitating partnerships where institutions can pool resources, it offers students an array of courses available both nationally and internationally; courses ranging from a two week computer course to a Masters Degree in Development.
Such sharing of facilities promotes cost effective operation and competitive fees to students in a project that should overall be self financing.
Since the first stage Edupark is already operating, we should highlight those who have made this possible; Investec Bank whose funding got the Business School underway, so that more than 70 Masters students could enrol when the doors opened last month; the Irish Government whose sponsorship allowed the country’s first Development Facilitation and Training Institute to open; and the Dutch and Australian Governments, respectively, who have supported the Language Centre and the centre of vocational and technical skills.
It is heart-warming to know that we have so many friends who are deeply interested in our growth as a nation. Among these is, a New York lawyer, Ms Vandanna Chak, who voluntarily helped establish the University of the North Foundation in the United States. Welcome, and thank you for your support.
Such partnerships, within our society and reaching out across the oceans, are critical to achieving all our goals, and in particular to realising the bold conception of Edupark.
May the example of those who have given this project its start give particular inspiration to the representatives of business who are here tonight and those across our country who could not be with us.
By investing in our people through Edupark, you will be investing in your own companies future through helping to provide the high quality graduates you would want to employ. By investing in education you will not only ensure good returns for your investments, but also help to address the imbalances of the past and to speed the journey to a better life for all.
The fund that we are starting here tonight will ease the University’s inherited backlog. That in turn will allow it to devote itself fully to the formidable task of producing professionals to empower this province, our county and the Southern African region.
May I, in closing, congratulate all those who have worked to get this contribution to our country’s education system underway.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It now gives me great pleasure to formally launch the Turfloop Foundation and the Chancellor’s Fund. May they be effective instruments of your support for the University of the North and for Edupark, to which I now formally pledge my support.
Issued by: Office of the President
Original source can be obtained from the Governments web site.