Strategic Alignment

The UKZN Strategic Plan 2017–2021 builds on work already underway and launches several new initiatives. While maintaining continuity with the normative standard of African scholarship within a global context, the plan takes advantage of UKZN’s distinctive features – including its heritage, refreshed academic portfolio, research strengths, and its geographical location as a coastal university on South Africa’s eastern seaboard with a significant presence in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. The intention is to strategically position UKZN as a locally engaged institution – with a strong global presence in selected research areas.

The Strategic Plan will steer UKZN through a period that is likely to be characterised by a rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive Higher Education environment, high expectations from students, and also significant financial pressures.

The following strategic and environmental factors form the backdrop for the strategic choices underpinning the strategic plan:

People and institutional Climate

Strengthening of the current institutional climate within UKZN is one of the overarching intentions of the plan.

The leadership at UKZN has already started working to create a climate within which the University can inspire greatness by demonstrating that Higher Education is about compassionate human development and by imparting values that empower all people to reach

their full potential. As part of advancing scholarship and knowledge, UKZN advances mutual understanding, social cohesion, and peace. Therefore, the leadership has embraced the ideal of servant leadership, where moral consciousness is appreciated and accessed through ways that inspire trust, pride, and mutual confidence.

The Challenge of Scale

The size and shape of UKZN is a key strategic issue running through this document. The University has more than 45 000 students (approximately 42 500 full-time equivalents), 4 400 staff, over 148 370 alumni (8 785 of whom are now international), and an annual budget that exceeds R2 800 million. The current infrastructure accommodates the academic activities in the four Colleges (Agriculture, Engineering and Science; Health Sciences; Humanities; and Law and Management Studies) as well as all student academic and recreational facilities. These are distributed across five University campuses (Edgewood, Howard College, Medical School, Pietermaritzburg, and Westville).

The ongoing development of a Campus Master Plan serves as a guide for the future growth, improvement, and repositioning of UKZN. The Master Plan will be continuously revised over the lifespan of this Strategic Plan in order to reflect the changes in UKZN’s size, organisation, and business priorities. This will ensure that the University grows as a comprehensive, college- based, research-intensive institution – with a world-

renowned research profile and distinctive and aligned undergraduate and postgraduate teaching portfolios.

A critical step over the next five years will therefore be to plan to scale, in order to realise UKZN’s academic ambition and to offer students and staff the widest range of opportunities – including critical public and private sector partnerships, global mobility, and linkages with world-renowned research and university partners. The principles of equity and opportunity in participation by both students and staff will inform this strategy. Increasing the availability of scholarships and residential accommodation, together with targeted investments in student support, will be required to encourage participation by students who experience disadvantage. Within this context, the quality of the student experience will be paramount. This will need investment in the expansion and improvement of teaching and learning through digital technologies, and in the creation of supportive learning, social, and residential environments. The strategy assumes that classroom teaching and campus life will remain core to UKZN, but would require digital enhancement.

Therefore, UKZN’s growth parameters have been prioritised as follows:

  • The growth of the Institution will be restricted to the current geographic spread between the cities of eThekwini (Durban) and Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg). An exception will be the provision of programmes in the Health Sciences, where there is a need for an extended platform into rural areas for the provision of healthcare training and services. UKZN will also make provision for extended online education and other
  • programmes for experiential learning, in order to meet the needs of communities far from our campuses.
  • A cap in the growth of the headcount in student enrolment at 50 000 – for the period leading to the year 2030.
  • A growth in postgraduate enrolment up to 30% of total student enrolment.


UKZN remains committed to the trajectory commenced in 2009, in terms of advancing African scholarship within a competitive, global, Higher Education environment. Internationalisation has been identified as one of the key goals underpinning the Strategic Plan, in order to meet UKZN’s aspiration to be a globally connected University of African Scholarship.
As one of the key drivers for change, global mobility will grow for students, academics, and University brands. This will not only intensify competition, but will also create opportunities for more meaningful global partnerships and expanded access to student and academic talent. UKZN will have to strengthen its efforts to increase the international mobility of both students and staff – especially within Africa.

UKZN will need to respond to the increase in the availability of “knowledge” – especially online – which is driving the expansion of access to university education globally. This driver of change will intensify as digital technologies continue to transform the media, retail, entertainment, and other industries – including Higher Education. The national phenomena of an aging researcher cohort and the continued decline in the

per capita funding of Higher Education, will be major constraints for the internationalisation agenda, especially with regard to UKZN’s world-ranking aspirations.

The idea that the world is currently entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution is gaining traction. This Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the Third – the digital revolution that has been prominent over the last half century. This has seen a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, resulting in changes that are evolving at an exponential rate and which are disrupting almost every industry in every country on Earth.

This rapid change, however, presents countless possibilities for billions of people across the world connected by mobile devices – with unprecedented processing power and storage capacity. Emerging technology breakthroughs in fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing, will all amplify these possibilities.
The breadth and depth of the above changes will herald the transformation of entire sectors of society and result in positive gains in terms of efficiency, productivity and safer and more rewarding jobs. However, the changes may also lead to undesirable consequences such as greater inequality in societies and the displacement of workers by technology.

National Perspective

Nationally, the Higher Education landscape will continue to see changes in national policy – including reforms to the regulatory environment. The Higher Education
Amendment Bill, passed by the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces at the end of 2016, will give the Minister of Higher Education and Training new powers to, among other things, determine policy on transformation goals, articulation, and also recognition of prior learning within Higher Education. There is likely to be a regulation of tuition fees or further extension of Higher Education for the poor and financial aid for students from middle-income families.

The demand for free, quality and decolonised Higher Education may escalate and create an unstable environment for the running of universities in South Africa. There will be increasing pressures to find new and innovative means to engage students who feel alienated by institutional cultures that are underpinned by normal university governance and democratic processes – echoing increasing dissatisfaction with widening inequality in South African society. This is within the context of a growing trust deficit among ordinary people across the world with regard to mainstream business and political establishments. UKZN carries a heavy responsibility to create a culture that promotes engagement, dialogue, and tolerance for different values. The challenge for University leadership is to provide an engaged, open, and connected form of leadership that practically serves and meets the needs of students as the Institution’s major partner. UKZN’s primary aim is to shape a future that works for all – by putting people first and empowering them to cope with the evolving world. For students and staff, UKZN should be a place of new and original thoughts and ideas that will shape a brave new future.

A number of exciting opportunities are emerging. These include the continued commitment of the Department of Higher Education for the funding of infrastructure development at universities and the introduction of the University Capacity Development Grant for general development within an institution.

The UKZN Strategic Plan 2017–2021 aligns with: the National Development Plan 2030: Our Future – Make it Work (2013); the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy for KwaZulu-Natal (2011); and the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training: Building an Expanded, Effective and Integrated Post-School System (2013).

Regional and Local Context

Although it is true that Higher Education around the world faces disruptive forces such as MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses) that will increasingly provide international platforms for education and training – the value of a residential university that simultaneously offers global connectivity and access while also being deeply embedded in its local community, is less susceptible to disruption. Key to this strategic approach is the strength of partnerships and the degree of entrenchment in local communities, the public sector, as well as in industry and corporate partners. It is the intention of UKZN to become a tertiary education institution that is highly connected or “plugged in” to its regional partnerships, and to create an inviting culture for regional partners on all our campuses.

Transformation and Excellence: UKZN Commitments

Transformation and excellence are key mutually
reinforcing drivers for delivering on the purpose of the Strategy – Inspiring Greatness. They are complimentary concepts at UKZN and will be monitored using a number of key performance indicators scattered throughout the Strategy document. The commitment of the University to achieving transformation and excellence simultaneously is unwavering and also entrenched in the UKZN Transformation Charter and the UKZN REACHT principles.

Maintaining Strategic Momentum


The implementation of the Strategy is a journey and builds on the momentum and achievements of previous strategic initiatives – specifically the UKZN Strategic Plan 2009-2016. The previous planning period was characterised by a number of significant changes in the Higher Education landscape. These included the restructuring of the Higher Education landscape through which the University was born, the introduction of the new sub-framework of Higher Education qualifications within the National Qualification Framework, and the restructuring of the national Post School Education system.

The UKZN Strategic Plan 2009–2016 articulated a clear vision for the University as a Premier University of African Scholarship. It emphasised the goal of being a globally connected University from an African perspective – with excellence in learning, teaching, research, and community engagement, leading to an emphasis on growing programmes and promoting indigenous knowledge systems.

UKZN has largely achieved the above aims. It has achieved

a strong global outlook that has placed it among the top 500 universities in the world in major rankings, and has enabled it to establish new and significant international strategic partnerships. A sizeable number of its researchers have gained national recognition for their outstanding research outputs in terms of quality and impact. This has enabled UKZN to maintain the lead nationally – for two consecutive (2013-2014) years – in terms of having the most published research outputs, as recognised by the Department of Higher Education and Training. The Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), together with the newly formed Africa Health Research Institute, forms one of the most influential research clusters in Africa on HIV Prevention and TB research.

UKZN has made comprehensive changes to the academic programme offerings and academic structure, in order to refresh the taught curricula and to respond to challenges of articulation within the new National Qualifications Framework and the imperatives of the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training. Investment in modern IT infrastructure has also provided a supportive and creative environment for teaching and learning and research, as well as enriching the student experience. Considerable effort is being made to ensure the appropriate decolonisation of curricula across the Institution, so as to reflect UKZN’s African roots.

More recently, there has been significant investment in physical infrastructure supported by the Department of Higher Education and Training. These investments are in student residences and in the construction of a modern academic facility at the Edgewood campus. The development of the Campus Master Plan is set to

steer the development of UKZN towards further capital projects, in order to give effect to this plan. The University recently received an international award (Africa Best Employer Brand Awards – 3rd Edition) for being a best employer in terms of the development of its employees and for the strengthening of careers. It has also made significant contributions to local, regional, and national skills development agendas through relevant research solutions and participation in planning and advisory structures. UKZN was also honoured at national level for its extensive efforts made to establish the use of isiZulu as a teaching and academic language.

Research Flagships

UKZN aims to strengthen its research performance through strategic investment in key University-wide, cutting-edge research flagships. These flagships represent areas of research where the University aspires to be world class on a sustainable basis, as they will serve as a mechanism for attracting and retaining the best students and staff. Among others, the research flagship investment strategy entails the:

  1. Development of a critical mass of expertise and infrastructure that transcends individual contributions;
  2. Establishment of select trans-disciplinary areas that traverse the boundaries of the existing four Colleges;
  3. Establishment of key international partnerships in these research areas; and
  4. Concentration of internal and external resources in order to achieve global recognition.
The research flagships for UKZN for the period 2017-2021 are:

  1. Social cohesion – “Addressing Inequality and Promoting Nation Building”
  2. African health – “Saving Lives”;
  3. Big Data and Informatics – “Computing Solutions”
  4. African cities of the future – “Most liveable cities”

a short description of each of the research flagships is provided below.

Social coheSion – “addreSSing inequality and Promoting nation building”

South Africa is young as an integrated country with a free society, and inherits a massive burden of inequality from the Apartheid past. While South Africa has a remarkable constitution, which entrenches equality and opportunity for all, and there has been an incredible transition of reconciliation and development, led by our iconic leader, Nelson R. Mandela, there remains a legacy of unequal access to resources, or inequality in opportunity for personal or community development.

South Africa has the highest GINI co-efficient of inequality, and is one of the most rapidly changing social systems. This unfortunate situation does provide a geographic advantage for finding better solutions. Research (knowledge and understanding) and trained capacity (students and practitioners) that can contribute solutions to societal challenges that emanate from inequality, may be best implemented in a situation of extremes as these that exist in South Africa. Solutions generated here can inform solutions for the entire world.

This research Flagship will focus on tackling factors that sustain inequality of opportunity and outcomes, by building capabilities, removing barriers, and redressing the wrongs of the past. Furthermore, UKZN will focus on leveraging successes in these areas for translation into real achievements for our citizens and communities, with an emphasis on the poorest of the poor and marginalised communities.

The focus will be on human development in line with the National Development Plan, but which is sustainable, and retains the linkages to the natural resource base on which such communities often depend where appropriate. The approach will be to focus on reducing inequality by finding tailored solutions that address quality of life and aspirations in these communities, including in areas of agriculture, water, natural resource access, land tenure, health and social services. We expect these to collectively translate into improved quality of life, improved education and capacity to work productively. This will be achieved in an environmentally sustainable manner, which takes into account the pressures of global change and climate change. It will build on these successes and contribute to increased social cohesion, taking into account social inclusion, social justice, social capital, and social mobility.

The challenges faced in transforming societies cannot be based on perspectives drawn from separate disciplines. Therefore, this will require interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches that bring together teams from various areas such as food production, natural resources use, water and food security, land-use planning and management, land tenure systems, and link these

with expertise in service delivery in key human welfare outcomes such as social services, poverty alleviation, health, and education. At the same time, solutions will need to be translated into policy and practice, necessitating involvement from development studies, political sciences, economics, and law. We anticipate identifying a few large integrated projects, and recruiting academics and students from across a broad range of disciplines to participate in these projects. Only through these multiple lenses that such a team will bring, will we be able to identify and grasp the types of integrated solutions that will be required.

african health – “SaVing liVeS”

UKZN is a global leader in some areas of medical research, such as AIDS and Tuberculosis. The Flagship research programme strategy offers UKZN an opportunity to build on its existing strengths to expand to a focused set of high impact health research studies. For maximal impact, the Flagship will focus on the top five causes of death in South Africa.

Information on the causes of death in South Africa is central to monitoring health, development goals and in formulating evidence-based health policies. The statistics on mortality and causes of death provide information needed to combat South Africa’s quadruple burden of disease – infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases and mortality from injuries as well as to estimate demographic indicators such as infant mortality, child mortality and maternal mortality. According to the latest report (based on death reports) on mortality and causes of death in South Africa in 2015, there are five conditions that contribute to the largest proportion of deaths in

the country. The five most common causes of death are 1) tuberculosis, 2) diabetes, 3) hypertension, stroke and heart disease, 4) HIV and 5) lung infections such as influenza and pneumonia, the latter principally affecting children.

The proposed flagship project will bring together researchers from across the Institution to identify potential high impact studies and to provide these with institutional support and linkages. For each of the Top five causes of death, a community (group) of researchers across disciplines and areas of study will be brought together to enhance their prospects of success.

New knowledge or technologies that contribute to reducing the country’s disease burden have the potential to make the greatest impact in saving lives and enhancing UKZN’s reputation and impact on health in South Africa.

big data and informaticS – “comPuting SolutionS”

UKZN is a global leader in some areas of the Mathematical, Physical and Biological Sciences and Engineering, ranging from astronomy to bioinformatics and from quantum information processing to Big Data analytics. Common to these areas is the use of the most advanced classical and quantum computational techniques for generating innovative, competitive and productive solutions. This research Flagship offers UKZN the opportunity to build on existing strengths to expand to a focused set of high impact research and development studies of relevance to the promotion of the 4th Industrial revolution in Africa. The convergence of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Systems is impacting on

most scientific disciplines, economies, and industries. The University of KwaZulu-Natal aims at becoming the pioneer of the intersection of classical and quantum information processing for Big Data analytics in South Africa. The capturing and processing of Big Data are central to the scientific and technological achievements of the Flagship. Being able to exploit Big Data as a tool to create value and to address both local and global challenges, as well as fundamental science questions, requires research and innovation in corresponding analysis techniques and technology. UKZN wants to lead in the science underpinning the disruptive digital technologies and techniques of the 4th Industrial Revolution with the potential to deliver increasingly sophisticated products and services and have positive impact on socio-economic development in Africa.

The convergence of digital technologies with breakthroughs in the physical and biological sciences will contribute to deliver increasingly sophisticated products and services and have a positive impact on economic development across Africa.

african city of the future – “moSt liVeable citieS”

According to UN-Habitat, Africa is urbanising at a rate of 4% per annum, particularly in developing countries. Over the next two decades, cities in Africa will experience higher growth rates than other regions of the world. It has been said by the director of UN-Habitat that urbanisation in the Africa of today is an untapped tool

for development and economic growth. This rapid rise in the population of African cities however presents a range of socio-economic challenges. Urbanisation has the potential to catalyse Africa’s structural transformation, if managed properly. Together with good planning of urbanisation and industrialisation, economic growth and human development can be achieved in a sustainable manner. Challenges, which need to be addressed, include congestion, infrastructure (water, housing, sanitation, and energy), food security, pollution, social disaggregation, unemployment, service delivery, crime, violence, and lawlessness, child and women vulnerability, health issues, environment, proper urban planning and design, etc. These challenges provide an opportunity for all disciplines in the University to come together to work in an interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary synergistic approach to find solutions which are unique and indigenous to the continent that we reside on. In addition, the African City of the Future will encompass concepts such as smart cities, aerotropolis, autonomous vehicles, urban agriculture, as well as the ocean economy for cities that are along the coast.

The proposed research flagship will bring together researchers from across the Institution to work closely with the municipalities, provincial and national governments to find sustainable solutions to the challenges associated with rapid urbanisation and the vision of developing African cities which are on par or better in terms of liveability than leading global cities.