UFH Community engagement spreads its wings

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ESTABLISHED links with Syracuse University in upper New York state were strengthened recently when a team from University of Fort Hare and Alice visited the state.The team consisted of Ms Jay Thakrar, Prof Gideon de Wet,Dr Wilson Akpan, Prof Gary Minkley, Sarel van de Walt from Aspire and two members of the Alice Residents' Association.The Director of Fort Hare's Comunity Engagement (CE) programme, Jay Thakrar, explained that following a series of linked call conferences, it was discovered that the two institutions had three CE programmes in common.

  • heritage development;
  • ICT
  • co-operative development.

Thakrar said while CE was alittle further down the line in the US, the institutions shared issues that they grappled with such as recognition within the academic system and funding.Although community engagement had been a feature on the higher education institutional landscape since 1996, it

was still an 'unfunded mandate' with universities getting very little support to undertake these activities.

Besides Syracuse, which is a very middle-class relatively affluent institution (mostly white) with an adjoining area called Southside which is poor and mostly African-American, the team visited two other educational institutions.The first was similar to South African further education and training colleges which offered a variety of programmes such as nursing assistants. "This was very interesting as say you have an accounting office, not everyone in the offices needs to be a chartered accountant," explained Thakrar.

In addition, the academic year was far more flexible as well because the college catered for adults, who had lots of other things going on in their lives, added Thakrar.The second visit was to a college which was based in a more rural area in a town called Morrisville. The college was small with 3 500 students and offered agricultural programmes which specialised in using new technology especially energy-saving devices. "It was very practical and hands-on, only teaching took place at the college, they undertook no research," Thakrar explained. Prof de Wet said comparative research into the two models of Syracuse and Fort Hare would be very useful as he added there was very little baseline data available informing CE programmes. "There is a lack of a solid knowledge base about the situation we operate in, the socio-economic environments of say Alice and Syracuse are constantly changing. "What would a study of mobility and migration within and without the Alice communty tell us I wonder?" Both Thakrar and De Wet said they would be compiling a report from the trip documenting their lessons learnt.

In addition the NRF does support research into CE at ruralbased universities with a two-year grant. Prof Minkley heads up this aspect and the aim was to have seven papers published on the issue by the end of the grant period. "We're about to host our first colloquium, entitled Conceptualising the Integration  between Teaching and Learning,Community Engagement and Research, on 24 November at the Regent Hotel at 9am. "

 Those needing transport (places are limited) should contact William

Awusi on 043-704 7509 or wawusi@ufh.ac.za)

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