About the Summit

Date: 09 – 11 December 2020  |  Location: Virtual Summit

Although the Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme has been in existence since 2002, it achieved a focused strategic direction in 2017 with financial support through the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) and input from the from the Department of Higher Education and Training, in partnership with Universities South Africa. HELM offer valuable perspectives on the contemporary leadership and management context, complexities and challenges facing universities.

The temptation exists to posit the idea of a normality at the end of a global disruption, like the Covid-19 pandemic. A new normal perhaps, but a recognisable future based on past configurations. The Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) Virtual Summit, seeks to interrogate this notion and tease out what a post-pandemic world means for the university, for leadership, for teaching and learning and the very future of higher education.

The HELM Virtual Summit will be driven by four novel assumptions. The first is that virtual engagement necessitates an increased opportunity for dynamic participation and interaction given the context of uncertainty and complexity, for leadership. For this reason, the plenary inputs will be brief, provocative and will encourage further reflective questions and discussion in the break-away sessions. Secondly, the anticipated financial impact of COVID’s economic stagnation on higher education in South Africa and further afield on the Continent; its future sustainability and how it will force the institutions’ leadership and stakeholders to fundamentally change their thinking and ways of doing business. Thirdly, the topics discussed will be formulated, as far as possible, as questions to stimulate ‘generative conversations’ as new thinking is needed, in terms of leadership and management in universities. Fourthly, that collaboration will create far more supported and sustainable universities, empowered leadership cadres and a relevant and responsive university system.

Objectives and Outcomes

The objectives are the following:

  • To consider the futures of higher education and its leadership implications.
  • To reflect and rethink higher education leadership and management experiences and practices.
  • To encourage solution building through facilitated dialogue and inquiry, as leaders and managers.
  • To consider in which leadership and management areas more attention is required for a sustainable future of higher education.

The following outcomes are envisaged for participants at this event:

  • To develop an informed collaborative perspective on leading and managing universities in complexity, disruption and change;
  • To promote the development of creative problem solving through expert input, self-reflection and collective interaction;
  • To promote the development of creative problem solving through expert input, self-reflection and collective interaction;
  • To acquire new knowledge that would contribute towards reflective, proactive leadership and management in the HE sector; and
  • To have an improved understanding of the HELM future programme and plans for both their professional and personal development.


Time: 10:00 – 11:15

Netiquette and Programme:
Host: Dr Linda Meyer, USAf

Opening and Keynote address:
Minister Blade Nzimande, Higher Education, Science and Innovation

Leaders of Change and Complexity, Plenary address:
Prof Ahmed Bawa, CEO USAf

Time: 11:15 – 12:30

Critical respondents:
Prof Sibongile Muthwa, VC NMU; Prof Francis Petersen, VC UFS; Dr Sizwe Mabizela, VC Rhodes

Dr Diane Parker, Deputy-Director General, Department of Higher Education and Training

Time: 13:30 – 15:30

  • Thematic Question 1: How can leadership lead in the age of complexity?
    The intention is to invite a comprehensive approach to the notion of leadership within higher education. The underpinning assumption is embedded within all questions which are presented thematically. We are experiencing a convolution of intersecting and cumulative systemic disruptive trends emanating from social, political, economic, environmental and climatic changes and presenting a new ecosystem of disruptive complexities. Navigating the complex ecosystem presents an unprecedented challenge and opportunity for innovation in leadership. What is required of leadership in the ways it might think about its role in an age of disruption, complexity and uncertainty? In which ways might leadership be considering the re-purposing of higher education? What might be the future look and feel of higher education? How do the global shifts impact on regional and national higher education?
  • Thematic Question 2: How do we develop sustainable, resilient Higher Education Institutions? (Parallel Session 1)
    The underlying assumption is that higher education institutions will have to brace themselves beyond the present moment of survival and adjustment to the post-Covid 19 future of a society never imagined before. The ability to bounce back, to confront, to engage and to charge ahead within the context of chaos and disruption is required. It may be assumed that resilience does not instantly arrive and would need to be developed through regular committed practices. “Normal” as we know it will not return and so sustaining resilience is required in both a permeated and systemic embedded form throughout societal levels and contexts of the individual, family, groups, organisations and communities. Higher Education institutions must take up their leadership role in demonstrating what this might entail in the ways in which it relates to its immediate and wider communities. The commitment is multi-dimensional in relation to financial, health and well-being as well as environmental.
  • Thematic Question 3: What do technology disruption and the virtual space mean for the university? (Parallel Sessions 2 & 3)
    The Covid-19 pandemic has foregrounded the critical importance of technological innovation as a space to enable aspects of societal continuity. It has also foregrounded the growing presence of technological disruption. Considering the need as well as the disruptive nature of technological innovations and its implications on higher education, is a crucial leadership task. What might be the implications of on-campus experiences versus virtual experiences? What might be the implications on infrastructure utilisation as well as its future development? These questions invite further probing of a potential new reality post the Covid-19 moment. It will set the scene for further interrogation of inequalities in the HE system in terms of digital transformation and institutional preparedness for technology mediated and supported teaching and learning.

Parallel Session 1:
Building a resilient and sustainable higher education system
Discussants: Prof Saleem Badat,Research Professor in the College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Dr Diane Parker, Deputy-Director General, Department of Higher Education and Training; Prof Zeblon Vilikazi, VP-VC Designate,Wits; Prof Rajani Naidoo, Director, International Centre for HE Management,University of Bath
Facilitator: Mr Ahmed Essop

Parallel Session 2:
Driving excellence and sustainability through strategic financial planning
Discussants: Prof Tawana Kupe,VC UP; Mr Sizwe Nxasana,Chair Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP); Mr Harvey Maritz, Acting ED Finance, UCT
Facilitator: Prof Thoko Mayekiso, VCUMP

Parallel Session 3:
Technological disruption and implications:
Ewan Prezens, Instructure and Mr Subhanu Saxena, Director, Gates Foundation

Time: 10:00 – 11:15

Netiquette and Programme
Host: Prof Denise Zinn

Critical Reflections on Leading into the Future
Discussants: Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, VC, UJ; Prof Ruksana Osman, DVC Teaching and Learning, Wits; Prof Thandwa Mthembu, VC DUT
Facilitator: Dr Oliver Seale, Director HELM

Time: 11:15 – 12:30

Discussants: Prof Sibongile Muthwa, VC NMU / Chair, USAf; Ms Babalwa Ngonyama, Council Chair, UCT; Prof Wim de Villiers, VC SU
Facilitator: Dr Birgit Schreiber, Africa Centre for Transregional Research, Freiburg University

Time: 13:30 – 15:30

  • Thematic Question 4: How do we develop critical, compassionate and creative citizens of the future who will manage the complexities of the future? (Parallel Session 1)
    This question relates to student-centeredness but is extended to embrace all role players within higher education in relation to the curriculum, its relevance as well as the experience of role players on campuses. For students, academics and professional/administration staff this would include what future generations might be dealing with and the implications for their educational experiences. While critical citizenship is required in strengthening and deepening democracy, recognition of each other and compassion towards each other is required in building strong communities within a democracy. For this, consideration needs to be given to how participatory democracy and engagement might be meaningful in developing societal experience of democracy. Finding solutions requires creative and innovative citizenry and is premised on the assumption that the state is inclusive of all its citizenry.
  • Thematic Question 5: How are institutional cultures impacted in an age of complexity and disruption? (Parallel Sessions 2 & 3)
    Higher Education institutional cultures have been considered through the lens of transformation which assumes a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. A shift is invited here towards resetting assumptions in relation to change which is outward and forward looking. Redress and historical inequalities remain present and must be addressed while too considering institutional cultures within contexts of technological disruption and a virtual reality. What might this require of institutional cultures? Are there opportunities of leap-frogging the traditional debilitating barriers to achieving equity? How might it shift and be expanded? In which ways may this be relevant to societal embeddedness and connectivity? How do we move from a competitive to a collaborative institutional culture within all our institutions? How might regional collaboration be enhanced as part of an optimistic vision of a future higher education system?

Parallel Session 1:
The future of graduate employability and citizenry: How can leaders help?
Discussants: Prof. Thierry M. Luescher, Research Director: Post-Schooling and Work, HSRC; Dr Luci Abrahams, LINK Centre, Wits; Prof Francois Strydom, UFS
Facilitator: Dr Nicola Branson, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, UCT

Parallel Session 2:
Leadership context, culture and identity
Discussants: Dr Carolyn Stefanco, Senior VP, Lindauer Global (and former president); Prof Thandwa Mthembu, VC DUT; Prof Pamela Dube, DVC Student Development and Support, UWC
Facilitator: Prof Patrick FitzGerald, HELM Advisor and Programme Leader

Parallel Session 3:
How can leaders ensure non-racism, diversity and inclusion during times of complexity and uncertainty?
Discussants: Prof Denise Zinn, HELM; Prof Andre Keet, research chair in Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation, NMU; Mr George Mvalo, Director: Social Justice and Transformation Unit, VUT
Facilitator: Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, Executive Director: Student Life & Transformation, NWU

Time: 10:00 – 12:30

Netiquette and Programme
Host: Prof Martin Oosthuizen, Executive Director, SARUA

Plenary Panel: Leading the University in Africa
Discussants: Prof Paul Zeleza, Vice-Chancellor, United States International University-Africa in Nairobi; Prof Goolam Mohamedbhai, former SG AAU and former VC University of Mauritius; Prof Puleng Lenka Bula, Vice-Rector: Institutional Change, StudentAffairs, and Community Engagement, UFS
Facilitator: Prof Francis Petersen, VC UFS

Time: 12:30-12:00

Prof Patrick FitzGerald; Dr Oliver Seale; Dr Di Parker