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Courageous Conversations In Kimberley

Courageous Conversations with Alumni: Help UWC graduates develop skills and become more employable

From Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, from Johannesburg to Kimberley, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to engage its alumni community on the hotly-debated issue of the University’s intellectual identity and curriculum transformation

The latest round of the UWC Alumni Courageous Café Conversations series was hosted in Kimberley recently, and several generations of former students of the University, now resident in the Northern Cape, wasted no time jumping into the fray.

Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, explained why the initiative was established.

“After the Fees Must Fall movement blossomed in 2015, one of the calls from the movement was for the decolonization and transformation of the curriculum,” she remarked. “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.

“Our experience in the focus groups showed that if you really thought about and engaged with the past, it might be easier to move forward, taking from the past and the present and moving to a brighter future.”

As had been the case at previous events, the Kimberley conversations were eagerly welcomed by the alumni, who engaged in vigorous discussion.

First to shoot from the panelists was Judge Steven Majiedt, a permanent Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein since 2010, who obtained his BA (Law) and LLB from UWC in 1981 and 1983, respectively.

Judge Majiedt took the audience down memory lane, discussing his time on campus, while also delving into the reasons UWC was established, and the role the University played in the fight against apartheid.

Turning to his law profession, he explored how things have changed since his student days.

“Some of the old colonial courses came from our colonizers, but they still matter, and we cannot simply do away with them,” he noted.

“But I think the focus should shift to something like studying voluntary associations that form themselves as part of cooperatives, because I firmly believe that the way to empower people economically in South Africa is to create cooperatives.”

Judge Majiedt also called on the University to provide practical training to students and to stimulate them to debate.

“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 to a corporate situation and set up their own practices.”

Jacqueline Mgada, senior manager at the South African Revenue Services, 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 stand up for their views.

“Knowledge of the millennial generation has showed that information can be easily accessed, and that people should be encouraged to educate themselves,” Mgada commented. “I always tell people that you don’t have to be rich to stand up and pioneer your life.”

Having graduated in 2008, Malindi Khoza, who works for the Northern Cape Provincial Treasurer, noted that she - like her fellow panelists - took home lots of lessons from her time at the University - lessons about critical thinking, tolerance and respect.

Khoza raised some difficult but important questions about the value and reputation of a UWC degree, in view of the belief that many graduates are jobless - a phenomenon relevant to most (if not all) other universities to one degree or another.

“How many students are actually working in the fields they have studied for?” she asked. “We live in a global world, and UWC needs to find its sport in that competitive market. The University should introduce new techniques to make an impact, such as distance learning.”

Members of the audience were also given an opportunity to share their views, and the University is planning to host a similar event in Cape Town later this year.