Vice-chancellor Adam Habib in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS
Vice-chancellor Adam Habib in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS

Prof Adam Habib said on Tuesday that he will leave his position as vice-chancellor of Wits University at the end of the year to take up the position of director at the SOAS University of London.

The directorship is equivalent to a vice-chancellor position in SA. 

“I was approached to apply for the SOAS position at the end of last year. I threw my hat into the ring and was surprised when they offered me the post. After much deliberation with my family and considerable engagement with the Wits council and the executive, I have agreed to accept the offer,” said Habib who spent eight years at the helm of Wits.

“My decision was not made lightly. I am a proud leader and champion of Wits University and SA, and will continue to fly these flags high,” he said. “I have committed to strengthening ties between the SA and UK higher education sectors in my new role.”

Habib’s CV says his focus as Wits vice-chancellor was to consolidate the university’s academic programmes; enhance its research and innovation standing; restructure its managerial and technological operations; and ensure its financial sustainability.

Habib previously served in a variety of roles at the University of Johannesburg , the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and University of Durban-Westville. He was a member of the presidential task-team on funding for higher education and chair of the committee for the strategic review of the National Research Foundation, among other posts.

Under his leadership, Wits says it has exceeded all indicators. The university’s research output has increased by more than 60% (in quality international journals), more students are passing, and a record number of students have graduated in recent years, it also said.

“The Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub has also flourished under his leadership, Wits’s finances are stable and it has strong, independent governance structures in place.”

Strong position

The university said more than 9,500 students graduated in 2019, the most in the university’s history.

Wits also quoted Habib as saying: “In line with the Wits aim of becoming an increasingly postgraduate university, we enrolled 15,000 postgraduate students last year. Our research outputs have increased from 1,200 units in 2013 to just under 2,000 in 2020, without compromising on quality. About 90% of our papers are published in peer-reviewed international journals. These are phenomenal achievements for any university, and I will leave Wits in a strong position.”

The chair of Wits University’s council, Isaac Shongwe, said of Habib: “He is a dynamic leader who has, without a doubt, made a significant contribution to Wits and the higher education sector, both locally and abroad.

“His fearless, forthright commentary and his general robustness have left our university, and SA, a richer intellectual space, for which we are grateful.”

The institution said the chancellor, Judy Dlamini, members of the university’s council and members of the senior executive team have commenced plans to find a suitable candidate to replace Habib.

“Wits has an impressive executive team, which is increasingly sought-after to lead other universities in the higher-education sector,” said Shongwe. “Almost a third of all public universities in SA are led by Witsies and we are confident that a suitable successor will be appointed. We will, of course, continue to develop strong leaders for all sectors of society.”