Change the world

Innovation, Development & Change

We will honour Nelson Mandela’s name and continue his legacy by leading the University into a new era of transformative innovation, development and change.

We are based in the Eastern Cape, the province where Nelson Mandela was born and grew up in the rural Mvezo and Qunu communities. We understand the range of challenges facing our young people in both the rural and urban areas, and our goal is for all young people in the Eastern Cape and South Africa is to help them to achieve their full potential through our University.

We are increasingly focusing our efforts on building partnerships with schools and communities in the rural and urban areas of the Eastern Cape to help address the chasm between secondary and higher education that many young people in South Africa battle to overcome.

For our students, we are committed to providing a welcoming and inspiring environment that is supportive, innovative, diverse and safe. Our students need to feel they are in a place of learning and discovery, founded on strong, egalitarian values, that encourages them to express themselves, stretch themselves and seek new solutions for a better world.

It is our sincere aspiration that Nelson Mandela University will increasingly become the go-to learning destination of choice for staff and students who: 

...are pioneering change agents for a better world;

...are committed to creating jobs in an entrepreneurial economy together across disciplines in seeking solutions to achieve quality of life and a healthy environment for all people, and

...are instilled with a deep need to serve and to give back.

Society seeks out our graduates because of their attributes, values, skills, thinking ability, drive and academic excellence.



Successful society & civilization

Message from the Vice-Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University, Professor Derrick Swartz (2008 – 2017)

A tertiary education contributes to the lives of our young people in many, insurmountable ways, including the opportunity to develop themselves, achieve financial independence and stability, help to support their families, greater independence and self-confidence, contribute to society, inspire other young people to complete their education.

My view is that no society, no civilisation has ever been successfully built without present generations investing in the education of future generations. As South Africans we must find ways of augmenting our universities’ pressurised resources. It is extremely important because it is about creating a strong culture of giving together for education, and coming together to create a more just and equal society.

This brings me directly to the contemporary #FeesMustFall campaign and the 

transformation, decolonisation movement, which, I believe, offers a positive opportunity for us to reinvent and re-animate what it means to be a leading South African and African university in the world today; what it means to be more true to our mission to educate, emancipate and contribute to a more just and equal society.

It is a fascinating case for change that compels us to reassess our value proposition: what is our distinctiveness and our value as a university named after Nelson Mandela; what makes us the compelling choice of university for South African and international students?

To rise to this, we are reassessing and changing our curricula, teaching and learning practices, research and development, innovation, entrepreneurialism and the way we prepare our students for the world out there. To not do so would be to lose touch with the world we live in, the world we want to live in and the generations seeking and requiring this.

A new and changing world

When students enter Nelson Mandela University they need to feel and know that they are entering a learning environment that is innovative, cosmopolitan, diverse and safe for all students and all genders; a place where people are expected to rid themselves of prejudices and preconceptions; a place where students will literally be discovering a new and changing world.

This is a world in which ever fewer students are going to get work in traditional companies, corporation, industries and institutions. With an increasing number of people getting degrees worldwide, the traditional employers who historically provided a reservoir of employment are not going to be sufficient. Graduates are going to need to build their own economies, businesses and innovations.

As universities we currently remain too focused on employability and we need to shift this mindset and be more focused on entrepreneurialism in order to nurture graduates who are equipped to create their own work opportunities and to help drive new frontier economies.

New growth areas

Emerging economies have historically been shaped around the urban centres. In South Africa, for example, our economy grew around the mining and financial complex of what is now Gauteng. We need to develop new growth areas, such as the oceans economy, renewable energy, agricultural and food production, and we need to ensure that growth is both centralised and decentralised to improve livelihood opportunities in both the urban and rural areas.

The key to this is young graduates with the education, skills and entrepreneurial mindset to develop small business, co-operatives and social enterprises, of which there are countless models of success in this country and worldwide.

As part of this we need to recognise the assets we have and develop the business opportunities they offer. We will be developing Nelson Mandela University and the Eastern Cape coastline into a global marine and maritime epicentre. The Eastern Cape has many of South Africa’s most pristine natural environments, and most attractive tourism, leisure and lifestyle assets, and yet we do not do nearly enough to showcase them, which is why the Western Cape is seen as the tourism mecca.

Entrepreneurs and innovators

Nelson Mandela University students and graduates should want to be entrepreneurs and innovators; they should be driven to discover new solutions for our planet’s needs – from water to energy to poverty to food to decent green jobs to human emancipation.

Universities should be spaces of exciting, innovation thought where students learn to experiment with the wonder and capacity of their minds.

We need to think about what we are offering our students as the leaders of positive change for South Africa and the world, and what we can do differently.

EARTH University in Costa Rica ( for example, has a highly successful, innovative educational approach that prepares young people from Latin America, the Caribbean Africa and Asia, to contribute to the sustainable development of their countries and the creation of just societies.

Invest in our young people

It goes without saying that transformative innovations and new growth areas will require our collective focus and commitment, incredibly hard work and astute financial management and policy-making to raise the finances we require. But the government and South African society at large must find a way to do this: to invest in our society, our civilisation and our promising young people who deserve their future. 

My attitude is that we must not be risk averse; we need to reinvent the manner in which universities are funded, and we need to take this further and re-examine how the global economic system has evolved. We need to support innovation and change. We have pockets of this, but overall our social and economic systems in South Africa and throughout the world are too conservative, too conventional and unsustainable.

We need to break through conventions that no longer serve the majority of people, we need to encourage disruptive innovations across our institutions and in all disciplines and faculties in order to fertilise the sustainability consciousness we require to survive.

Universities are indispensable in this process, they are precious; they are the living laboratories for the experimentation of new and radical alternatives. These alternatives must inspire and encourage our students to tackle the challenges of our time, to reinvent their world, our world at this crossroads time.