Towards community-engaged and student-centred universities
Eventually, support for the special issue moved under the auspices of USAf and its Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme, and to the responsibility of Dr Oliver Seale, Prof. André Keet, and Dr Johnson, who asked Prof. Thierry Luescher and Dr Somarie Holtzhausen to act as guest editors of the issue. Here are some of the topics in this issue’s articles that we are sure will generate much thinking, debate and further research in the sector.
Ubuntu in the practices of African graduates and students
A strong theme in this issue’s articles relates to learning relationships among students, relationships between graduates and wider society, and the conception of these relations in terms of ubuntu. With the article ‘“Giving back is typical African culture”: Narratives of giveback from young African graduates’, the research team led by Alude Mahali-Bhengu at the Human Sciences Research Council makes a critical intervention in our understanding of African graduates’ social consciousness and the kinds of interventions that foster commitments to transformative leadership, community engagement, and giving back to society even after students have left university. Drawing on a wide dataset from across several African countries, they show how African graduates’ practices of giving back to family, community, and society, change over time, and how their conceptions of give-back are evidence of a strong sense of ubuntu.
Mikateko Mathebula and Carmen Martinez-Vargas place ubuntu front and centre in their conception of a capabilities-based framework for assessing the performance of higher education in terms of supporting student well-being. Analysing data from two longitudinal research projects with undergraduate students in South African universities, they infer that ubuntu underpins the ways students tend to relate to each other – as interdependent partners of a learning community – while at university. Considering the deeply relational ways of being of African students at university, Mathebula and Martinez-Vargas advocate for embracing an African indigenous worldview and the creation of conditions for students to be able to achieve the capability of ubuntu.
The articles by Mahali et al. and Mathebula and Martinez-Vargas strongly relate to each other: the former shows the results of deliberately fostering an ethic of give-back and transformative leadership among students and the latter, articulating ubuntu as capability, illustrates how students ways of relating on a daily basis already evidence an ubuntu ethic. These two articles are followed by a third in which an ubuntu ethic is evident. Dumile Gumede and Maureen Sibiya analyse the self-care practices of first-year students in managing stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic. They use digital storytelling as data collection method. Their findings show that first-year students engaged in a range of self-care practices across all the six domains of self-care whereby relational self-care was the most fundamental domain that underpinned first-year students’ well-being. They therefore recommend a student affairs self-care programme design to prevent harm and support adequate self-care which should include social involvement and relational engagement as fundamental principles.
Technology and support for enhanced student engagement and success
Following the special COVID-19 issue of JSAA in 2021, the experience of the pandemic continues to inspire research that gives new insights into students’ adaptation and resilience to fast changes in the culture of teaching and learning and the place of technologically enhanced teaching and learning in African universities. Sonja Loots, Francois Strydom and Hanlé Posthumus have analysed a large set of qualitative data from the South African Survey of Student Engagement collected during the pandemic. They explore factors that support student learning and development and how these factors may be translated to enhance student engagement in blended learning spaces. Loots and her colleagues find that relational engagement (between students and their peers, students and lecturers, students and support staff and administrative staff, and even students and the learning content) is central to the student learning experience. Learning technologies may enhance relational engagement if these platforms are used to create blended learning environments that support learning and development.
Extended curriculum programmes (ECP) predate the pandemic and its ramifications on students’ lives. Such programmes were developed to provide promising, yet underprepared students with the necessary foundations to achieve success in higher education. The question of how students in extended curriculum programmes can be better supported continues to concern student affairs practitioners like Lamese Chetty and Brigitta Kepkey. Their article explores students’ interest in, awareness and utilisation of support services offered as part of an extended curriculum programme in health sciences. Their analysis of survey and qualitative responses of the first-year students showed that students were not as well informed as they should be, and that they accessed support services related to administrative, academic, and psychological/emotional or support needs much more frequently than those services related to other health needs or security services. It also showed that there remained a stigma around access to and use of certain support services.
The article by Rishen Roopchund and Naadhira Seedat illustrates how a voluntary student organisation can promote student well-being and engagement, student-centredness and student development. Their study focuses on a department-based chemical engineering student association and its relationships with departmental staff members and other university departments (such as community engagement) in organising a range of student development and community engagement activities. The authors propose an action plan for the association’s future improvement and growth, which can serve as a template for other initiatives of this nature.
Equipping students for successful transitions into livelihoods
The article by Taurai Hungwe and colleagues, ‘Diaries of establishing an entrepreneurship incubator at a health sciences university’, recounts a range of challenges and experiences they documented in the process of establishing an entrepreneurship incubator to support student entrepreneurial development at a health sciences university in South Africa. They describe and critically reflect on matters such as the funding, staffing, planning and operation of the incubation centre during its inception and building phase, and they consider the critical milestones they have reached and offer recommendations to others interested in embarking on such a journey.
Entrepreneurship skills are often mentioned as increasingly important for students to navigate the current complex world of work and develop sustainable livelihoods. Nowhere is this more evident than in the article by Andrea Juan and her research colleagues. ‘Graduate transitions in Africa: Understanding strategies of livelihood generation for universities to better support students’ shows that the notion of a straightforward transition from university into full-time employment is not the typical experience of African university graduates. Indeed, Juan and her colleagues found that such a path is accessible to only a minority of African graduates. For the majority, their post-graduation livelihood pathways are multidimensional and complex, involving any combination of paid employment and unpaid work (such as internships or home care-giving), entrepreneurship ventures, further studies, and unemployment. They show how important it is for African universities to help graduates navigate the challenges of post-graduation income generation and diversification by developing key transferable skills and resources early, including entrepreneurship skills, and affording graduates continued access to career development support and other transition services on campus.
Chanaaz Charmain January’s contribution deals with the role of student affairs in the transformation of higher education and student success. Against her development of a framework for higher education transformation that blends equity and excellence, January discusses how student affairs can best contribute to student success. In a mini-case study, she discusses successful collaborations in the student residence sector at the University of Cape Town. She also shows how the transformation framework may cascade down to a diverse set of graduate attributes called ‘Student Learning Imperatives’.