Prof Rolf Stumpf, former Vice-Rector: Operations and Vice-Rector: Teaching at Stellenbosch University (SU), was one of the most respected experts on higher education in South Africa. He passed away Tuesday morning (27 October 2020).
“The South African higher education sector has indeed lost a leading figure and an exceptional person. Our deepest condolences to the Stumpf family, in particular to his wife, Adrianne (Adie) and their three children,” says Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of SU.
“After his departure in 2002, Prof Stumpf always remained loyal to SU, and in recent years he was still been involved in our institution in various ways. Among other things, he was a participant in the Beste Professor dialogue series at the US Woordfees in 2017, which was led by Prof Andreas van Wyk, a former Rector and Vice-Chancellor of SU. Prof Stumpf’s topic focused on tertiary education in South Africa,” says Prof De Villiers.
“In 2017-2018, he was involved in an advisory role in the renewal strategy for two of our faculties, and from 2019 until shortly before his death, he worked with Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation, and Prof Ian Cloete, Senior Director: Information Governance, on a norms-and-standards model for SU.”
After a career in senior positions at the Department of Education, President of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)and member of the late President Nelson Mandela’s National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) in the 1990s, he was one of the people with the most profound knowledge of the higher education system over many decades. He was one of the founders and intellectual leaders of the higher education system for a democratic South Africa. Prof Stumpf was passionately committed to the higher education principles of inclusivity and broadening access, and to the democratic project in South Africa as a whole.
Shortly after the report of the NCHE was published, and in the year when the White Paper on Higher Education and the new Higher Education Act were adopted, Prof Stumpf joined SU on 1 October 1998 as Vice-Rector: Operations. In March 2000 he moved to the new portfolio of Vice-Rector: Teaching. SU was thus able to reap the benefits of his in-depth, first-hand knowledge and credibility, as well as the national and international networks in which he was deeply embedded at that critical time in the history of the university sector in South Africa. He played a key role in helping to manage and give direction to SU in the transition period to the democratic order.
According to Prof Andreas van Wyk, who was the Rector and Vice-Chancellor during Prof Stumpf’s period of service at SU, Prof Stumpf played a key role in SU’s response to the government’s National Plan for Higher Education of 2000. “This plan changed South Africa’s higher education extensively and in some respects in a controversial way. He helped ensure that SU could adapt to that plan without being to its detriment. He was very involved in strengthening, among other things, the University’s natural sciences offering and the development of the institution as a research university of international standard. His contribution to the establishment of a proper management information system at SU remains a monument to him,” said Prof Van Wyk.
In the Senate Report to the University Council, as set out in SU’s Annual Report (2002), Prof Chris Brink, the Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the time, wrote: “Prof Rolf Stumpf served as Vice-Rector: Teaching at the University with excellent leadership until his departure in 2002.”
It was widely known that Prof Stumpf managed his portfolios with great insight, technical knowledge and competence. In fact, as an executive member of a university’s management, not only his technical expertise of the higher education system was extraordinary; he helped invent it all for the entire South African university system. Some of his former senior SU colleagues describe Prof Stumpf as “one of the absolute best line managers” they had come across in their careers and “one of a kind”.
According to the SU Annual Report of 2001, the Academic Planning Committee under his chairmanship continued with the renewal of academic programmes. In 2000, SU started offering academic programmes instead of courses; it was aimed at developing training in general skills in addition to knowledge of subject disciplines. The aim was to meet the demands of the information and knowledge society, to look after South Africa’s specific needs and to create international recognition.
In the same year, Prof Stumpf also played a leading role in the development of SU’s inventive e-campus project, which included presenting postgraduate programmes through the web and other electronic platforms, as well as e-activities for the institution’s residential students.
Prof Stumpf was a strong candidate to succeed Prof Andreas van Wyk as Rector and Vice-Chancellor of SU in 2001, but he was appointed to the same position at the former University of Port Elizabeth. In that role, he also made an important contribution at national level in, among others, the Council on Higher Education.