Prof. Sibusiso Moyo’s educational and professional background was the perfect preparation for her new position as deputy vice-chancellor: research, innovation and postgraduate studies at Stellenbosch University (SU). It has equipped her with an unusually wide range of skills.
She obtained a BSc in 1996 in Zambia, her country of birth. That same year, she moved to South Africa to pursue her postgraduate studies at the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal), where she completed her PhD in Mathematics in 2002.
Moyo is clearly not daunted by challenges. In 2001, while still working on her doctorate, she was recruited to join the former Natal Technikon – now merged with the ML Sultan Technikon to form the Durban University of Technology (DUT) – as a mathematics lecturer. “My special focus is differential equations, their properties and applications,” she explains. “Over the past decade, I have worked on symmetry properties of differential equations and their integrability to find solutions for various systems.
“Collaborating with researchers in mechanical engineering, mathematical sciences and cosmology, we have looked at applying some of the well-known methods to understand how to best optimise the system, while also trying to explain and understand the physical behaviour of the solutions and their properties.”
While at DUT, she held a number of academic and administrative positions, which culminated in her appointment as DUT’s deputy vice-chancellor: research, innovation and engagement in 2017. “In total, I spent at least 21 years at DUT, which I would describe as an educational, inspiring and adventurous journey,” says Moyo.
She also developed a keen interest in tertiary education management during her time at DUT and served on various governance committees, including as Senate representative on the DUT Council. In 2016, she even obtained a master’s degree in Tertiary Education Management at Australia’s University of Melbourne.
Moyo adds: “As part of my academic and professional engagement, I also serve on a number of boards. My first passion, of course, is the advancement of mathematics and science, especially among our youth.” To this end, she chairs the board of trustees of the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (CASME).
She also serves as chair of the advisory board for the Future Professors Programme (FPP) Phase 1, which falls under the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and is hosted by SU. In addition, she has formed part of various committees set up by DHET, the Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation, and in 2020/21, was a ministerial appointee on the task team that reviewed South Africa’s Technology and Innovation Agency (TIA).
Further afield, she is honorary dean of the School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the Tianjin Vocational Institute in China (2021–2023) and institutional coordinator for the Alliance of Guangzhou International Sister-City Universities (GISU), which comprises 13 universities in 12 countries.
Moyo looks forward to taking up her new position at SU this month. “I am excited to join such a well-established research-intensive university,” she says. “The first three months will be critical in understanding the environment, strategy, people and key areas that need to be prioritised.”
However, she realises that the areas in her portfolio are all critical and interrelated: “In the short term, my focus will be to understand how each of the divisions reporting directly to me operate, what their priority areas are, and what they plan to do going forward. I want to know how their key strategic focus areas and aspirations are aligned with SU’s overall strategy to advance research, innovation and postgraduate studies.
“I am also interested in understanding our current regional, national and international networks, and how these benefit SU’s people in terms of academic and student exchanges and supporting our research and innovation missions. My role is to ensure that we strengthen our support systems for all our researchers and postgraduate students.
“Postgraduate enrolment trends and success rates are critical, as is the current state of affairs around emerging researchers – how they are recruited, supported and assisted in terms of scholarly plans and trajectories.”
Moyo’s objective is to work with the divisions in her portfolio to develop a blueprint that will identify the key focus areas based on SU’s overall strategy. Her other goals include advancing gender equality in the research fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and improving diversity among postgraduate students. “Some of the interventions – which, by the way, are not new or applicable to SU only – are about getting a critical mass from various communities, and especially those underrepresented in the sector,” she says.
“Then, once this critical mass gets into the SU system, how do we ensure that they succeed and complete their studies in the shortest possible time? How do we leverage additional resources to support the postgraduate enterprise in general, and scholarships for full-time study? And how is entrepreneurship embedded in the curriculum at both postgraduate and undergraduate level?”
Collaborations and networks
Moyo is certainly alive to the enormity of these challenges. “It does not take one individual to build and run an institution,” she observes. “For us to be successful requires both internal and external collaborations – at regional, national and international level. I see my role as supporting our SU community to leverage its collaborative networks as well as pull in resources that will add value to our aspirations.”
She is confident that this can be achieved: “As SU, one of the greatest networks we have is our alumni and friends of the university. Through the SU Development portfolio, I would like to get to meet our highly networked alumni and understand their interests as well. This is essential to our sustainability and will be one area I would like to explore.”
Moyo regards her appointment as a historic opportunity to serve SU and expresses her gratitude to the university leadership for their support to ensure a smooth transition. She has already met some of the key support divisions. “I must thank them for their commitment to SU and their hospitality and efficiency, and I look forward to working with them,” she says. “I cannot wait to meet the rest of the critical teams in the portfolio.”
She adds: “SU has some of the most amazing and talented people in the country and globally. Together, we can take the university forward and increase its impact in research, innovation and postgraduate studies.”