IASAS Appointment: Universities for Students
Universities are more than just engines for research. So says UWC Centre for Student Support Services (CSSS) Director, Dr Birgit Schreiber, who was appointed as chair of the African region of the board of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS) in April 2014.
IASAS is a global federation of higher education student affairs/services professionals from around the world that advocates for higher education students and their learning and development environment. The association promotes professional development, best practices, internships and exchanges, conference and research across regions, and has a number of programmes and services intended to enhance communication among student affairs organisations and agencies, and international professional development activities for student affairs professionals and providers. This is in line with the South African Council on Higher Education’s demand for increased professionalisation in the area of student affairs, where universities are expected to deliver in line with researches, best practices and disciplinary frameworks.
“It's a huge responsibility and a huge honour for UWC,” says Dr Schreiber. “UWC will be able to play a key role in chairing conversations across the continent, attracting partnerships and developing best practices. Not only can we learn from our African colleagues, but we will also be able to help shape the continent's higher education landscape. With the engagement of our national and continental colleagues in the university executives, we will be able to make a real difference for student success.”
The position comes with prestige, but also responsibilities. The IASAS promotes the welfare of higher education students through networking and sharing information, encouraging development programmes and providing a platform for improvement of inter-cultural communication and understanding. Enhancing local and international understanding will be among Dr Schreiber's duties.
“While the principles which inform good practice are universal, universities and student affairs need to be locally relevant and locally engaged – and each local context requires unique and innovative responses based on theory and research, and international value systems such as human rights and social justice,” she notes.
“Continental universities want to ensure a context conducive to higher education, and yet are paralysed by local political and economic conditions.These are the challenges we will look at and assist our colleagues with.”
Dr Schreiber's first major task is to ensure that the student affairs executives and directors develop an online platform which enables universities to have conversations across the continent – an online community of practice that will enable the development of standards based on values and principles.
From there it's about tackling matters of student affairs that improve living and learning at higher education – not only in terms of what students do, but also in terms of what institutions do to promote students and student success.
“Universities are taking responsibility for aspects of living and learning which we know have a huge impact on student success,” Dr Birgit explains. “Shaping the context for student successes cannot be coincidental or based on intuition, but needs to be based on research, partnerships and best practices. UWC is now in a position to contribute to and shape these matters.”