Pioneering v-c takes over at new-look Wits

July 13, 2001

British academic Norma Reid started her new job last week as vice-chancellor of the University of the Wi****ersrand, one of South Africa's leading research institutions. Her arrival coincides with a Rs100 million (£9 million) facelift that will make the university more user-friendly and attractive to students.

Professor Reid, 48, a Northern Ireland statistician and former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Plymouth, is the first woman to head Wits. She replaces Colin Bundy, who is now head of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Peter Bezuidenhout, director of marketing and communications, said: "Although Professor Reid started officially at the beginning of July, she has already put in a lot of work familiarising herself with Wits and has been in regular contact with senior staff."

Wits, which has 18,500 students, is polishing its image as a world-class university and trying to become more appealing to students in an increasingly competitive higher education market. Aside from beautifying its campus, it is streamlining student services and improving security.

Academic restructuring has streamlined nine faculties into five and 99 departments into 33 schools. Some of the schools, such as the performing arts, are being moved into upgraded facilities. Rs80 million has been earmarked in the next three years for upgrading and modernising the campus: another Rs20 million has been secured from outside.

The university's great hall and medical school foyers are being redecorated and its main library modernised, with new computers and a coffee shop. A huge deck with outdoor seating will connect the library to the students' union.

One-stop student services are being introduced and external investors are building a multi-level student centre, with banks, shops, entertainment facilities, a new clinic and upgraded student and club offices.

Nearby are the swimming pool and new volleyball and basketball courts. A modern, internet-connected residence is also being built.

The university is also setting up Wits Enterprise, a private company jointly owned by academics and the university, which will coordinate the sale of knowledge products and spin-off companies.

"These major projects arise out of confidence in the future," Mr Bezuidenhout said. This year, Wits increased its first-year intake by 22 per cent and there is a 15 per cent growth in postgraduate student numbers. "Overall our figures are now at a nine-year high," he added. "Professor Reid has come to Wits at an exciting time."   

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