The initiative to engage alumni on the issues of the University’s intellectual identity and curriculum transformation is the brainchild of Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic.
“After the Fees Must Fall movement blossomed in 2015, one of the calls from the movement was for the decolonisation and transformation of the curriculum,” says Prof Lawack. “The University responded accordingly to offer a space for its stakeholders to give their input, holding 60 focus group sessions involving staff and students on campus.”
The resulting conversations were highly successful, but the alumni community asked not to be left out. As had been the case at previous events in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the Kimberley conversation was welcomed by the alumni, who engaged panellists in vigorous discussion.
Judge Steven Majiedt, a permanent Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein since 2010, explored how things have changed since his student days, the reasons UWC was established and the role the University played in the fight against apartheid.
Judge Majiedt, who obtained his BA (Law) and LLB at UWC in 1983 said, “Some of the old colonial courses came from our colonisers but they still matter, and we cannot simply do away with them.” Judge Majiedt called on the University to stimulate debate among students.
“We must elicit debate in everything that we convey. We must get away from this old style of teaching and let law students, for instance, decide the actual case. We must also prepare them to eventually go into a corporate situation and set up their own practices.”
Jacqueline Mgada, senior manager at the South African Revenue Service, encouraged the University to build better relationships with the corporate sector and to help students to get internships, and called on students to be independent and defend their views.
Malindi Khoza, who works for the Northern Cape Provincial Treasurer, said that she had taken home lessons about critical thinking, tolerance and respect from her time at the University. Khoza, who graduated in 2008, raised the issue of the value of a university degree, given that graduate unemployment appears to be on the rise.
“How many students are actually working in the fields they have studied?” she asked. “We live in a global world, and UWC needs to find its spot in that competitive market. The University should introduce new [teaching] techniques to make an impact, such as distance learning.”
Members of the audience made good use of the opportunity to debate these views and share their own. As a stakeholder consultative process, the ‘Conversations’ series is proving to be invaluable. The University will host another event in Cape Town later this year, with others in the pipeline.