SOUTH AFRICA: New leader for Africa’s top university

For the first time in post-apartheid South Africa, a white academic has been selected to take over from a black university leader. Health sciences professor Max Price has been appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Africa’s foremost research university.

Price, who takes up the post mid-2008, will replace Professor Njabulo Ndebele, an author and scholar of African literature who has been UCT vice-chancellor for eight years.

The appointment follows an exhaustive search and selection process that attracted 27 applications, including 15 international candidates, two women and 14 ‘people of colour’.

Geoff Budlender, chair of the selection committee, said selection criteria were decided after consultation across the university and that the committee was “particularly mindful of the special imperative of transformation” and of “the challenges of leadership”.South African universities have made huge efforts to transform the racial composition of their student and staff bodies, to direct research and curricula towards tackling the enormous challenges of a new, democratic developing country, and to change a Western-oriented campus culture that many black people find alienating.

While they have not made major strides in attracting black academics, universities have succeeded in radically upping the number of black students and in appointing black scholars to leadership positions. More than two-thirds of the country’s vice-chancellors are now black.

But Price’s appointment is significant in that it shows opportunities remain for white scholars to take the helm of universities – and because UCT is Africa’s leading university. It was placed 252 in Shanghai University’s 2006 Academic Ranking of World Universities, in a cluster including the universities of Auckland (New Zealand), Bath and Dundee (UK), Bologna (Italy) and Guelph (Canada).

Budlender described Price as a distinguished scholar with an “inspiring leadership style” whose record demonstrated “major transformation achievement and extensive senior executive management experience”. He said Price had presented UCT with a “genuinely exciting vision”.

Currently working as a consultant, the former student anti-apartheid activist who was detained without trial became a Rhodes Scholar, dean of the faculty of health sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand and a drafter of post-apartheid health policies.

Price said he intended to pursue a dynamic transformation agenda, in consultation with staff and students, focusing on responsiveness to local and continental needs while also engaging with global trends and pursuing excellence at UCT.

“I intend building on UCT's formidable record of scholarship. I believe it is in participating and competing with the best the world has to offer, that UCT can and will make its largest impact locally as well as internationally,” he said.

[Max Price comments in the Sunday Times that this is a promising moment for universities like UCT – “a time to innovate and think expansively”. He describes his vision of how South African universities can contribute to development, continue the transformation project and insert themselves into global networks in the areas of research, teaching and exchange.]
Full report on the Sunday Times site