Professor Chris Brink (pictured), Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, will succeed Professor Christopher Edwards as Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University when he retires at the end of July 2007.
Over the past few years, Stellenbosch has emerged as one of the leading research universities in South Africa. On eight of the standard performance indicators for universities it ranks amongst the top three in South Africa, and on four of these it occupies first position. Of the seven National Centres of Excellence in South Africa, three are currently located at Stellenbosch – which was also named South Africa’s Technologically Most Innovative University in 2005.
Professor Brink, an eminent mathematician who studied at Cambridge, has attracted national and international attention for his transformation initiatives and diversification policies at Stellenbosch, which was once the intellectual home of the apartheid movement, in the 1960s and 70s.
The number of black students has increased steadily under a programme of inclusivity launched by Professor Brink following his appointment in 2002. At postgraduate level black student numbers increased by 50 per cent within four years, and blacks now make up more than 42 per cent of the postgraduate student population. As regards undergraduates, the percentage of black students crossed the 20 per cent mark last year – up from 14.7 per cent in 2002.
In addition, Professor Brink has dealt with challenges of institutional culture change such as a longstanding tradition of initiation rituals in the student residences. One of the biggest debates has revolved around language. Professor Brink has resisted pressure to make proficiency in Afrikaans compulsory for all students and all academic staff, and argued instead for increased inclusivity through a more flexible language policy.
The ability of leading universities to attract students from a diverse range of backgrounds is also a major issue in the UK, where Newcastle University, a member of the Russell Group of 19 leading research and teaching universities, has faced parallel challenges to Stellenbosch, both as regards inclusivity and as regards the knowledge economy.
Both universities are broad-based, research-led institutions which continue to play a significant part in the economic regeneration of their regions. Like Newcastle, Stellenbosch has a large Medical School and Business School. It has a student population of some 22,000 making it similar in size to Newcastle.
Newcastle is located in North East England, the region with the lowest participation rate in higher education in the UK. The University operates a number of widening participation schemes including the PARTNERS Programme, which has boosted applications from local students, who now account for almost a quarter of all undergraduates.
Professor Brink, who also has management experience in Australian higher education, said: ‘I am honoured to be given the opportunity of leading Newcastle University, and participating in the development of Newcastle as a Science City. The combination of global and local challenges manifested here appeals to me, and I look forward to the prospect of integrating academic excellence with an international agenda as well as being a driver for local economic and social development.’
The Chairman of Newcastle University's governing body, Council, Olivia Grant, commented: 'Chris Brink is an outstanding academic with an international reputation in higher education. He has demonstrated outstanding leadership at Stellenbosch and his appointment underlines our commitment to international excellence and diversity.
'We are confident that he will build upon the achievements of Professor Edwards, to position Newcastle firmly among the top universities in the UK and the world, whilst continuing to be a pioneer of widening participation,' she added.
Chris Brink was born and grew up in a small rural town at the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert. At the age of 18 he moved to Johannesburg, where he gained a first degree in maths and computer science. He continued his postgraduate study in mathematics and philosophy at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, before being awarded a prestigious scholarship to Cambridge, where he completed a PhD in Algebraic Logic in 1978.
His career since then has divided between academic and management positions in South Africa and Australia, with frequent contacts in Britain and Europe. He was a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Information Science Research of the Australian National University in the late 1980s, before becoming Professor and Head of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. In the mid-1990s he was involved in the restructuring of the University of Cape Town, where he served as Coordinator of Strategic Planning, and oversaw the production of the institution's strategic planning framework and mission statement.
In 1992 he was awarded an interdisciplinary DPhil by the University of Johannesburg, and by the late 1990s he was ranked as one of South Africa’s leading scientists by the national Foundation for Research Development.
In 1998, he was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Wollongong in Australia, where he restructured the University's activities in research, innovation and commercialisation. Following the decline of the steel industry, the University was key to the rebirth of Wollongong as a knowledge-based city. Professor Brink served as Board member of several organisations, including a company in high performance computing at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, and the Illawarra Regional Development Board.
He was appointed Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2002, which he has led through a transformation agenda while at the same time increasing its research and academic profile nationally and internationally.
Professor Brink has an international profile as a leader of research. He is a logician with a strong commitment to interdisciplinary work who has published widely in the fields of mathematics, logic, philosophy and computer science. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, a former President of the South African Mathematical Society, a Founder Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and Chair of the Advisory Board of the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
He is married with three children; two daughters aged 22 and 8, and a 6 year old son.
Web links to further information:
www.sun.ac.za/index.asp"> Stellenbosch University
published on: 4th July 2006