Mr George Mvalo, Director: Social Justice and Transformation
The upsurge of community engagement offers many possibilities for universities to operate as sites of citizenship. These possibilities may include contributing to community social and economic development, supporting equity and diversity within the higher education, or education for democratic citizenship.
With this in mind, the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) has adopted its new strategic plan, with the vision of becoming an African University that is a leader in quality teaching and learning, informed by research and driven by innovation. This is a five-year compact that will run until 2024.
Mr George Mvalo, Director: Social Justice and Transformation, said the compact will lay the building blocks towards VUT becoming a truly African University. He also said that where there was community engagement, there had to be social justice and transformation, irrespective of the theories and the methodologies of community engagement.
“If it is not a space for decolonising certain issues of the community, then we have to go back and review the policies of the university. But also, as we review institutional policies, we need to check if those policies are transformative or not, so as to appropriately tackle the issues facing the community.
“One of the university’s strategic goals is to deliver quality teaching and learning enhanced by the effective use of university resources, which means the needs of the society will be put first because VUT is here to ensure that the next generation of students and the next generation of communities see the value, benefits and investment in the institution.
“With the understanding that people have about community engagement, the question remains: How can the community at VUT be changed? The community at VUT can be changed by having a teaching and learning community engagement, where students and staff members will be exposed to and involved with the community by having sustainable community engagement projects that may be grouped into three categories, namely: service learning; community-based research; and organised partnerships.
“When we look at the organised partnerships, VUT has an advantage of helping the disadvantaged by either getting students into the university or letting science students teach those who are disadvantaged about technology. This can be a successful project when it comes to the fourth industrial revolution in VUT projects,” he said.
Miss Lebogang Mawelela: Community Engagement Specialist also suggested that VUT should have service learning. “Service learning is still relevant as a model that can be implemented in community engagement because when we look at our country, unemployment is a very big challenge. But immediately when we have students who are placed in relevant NGOs or NPOs to do the service learning; that really adds value to some prerequisite regulations.”
VUT is already involved in some community engagement projects. To mention a few: VUT has an orphanage based in Vanderbijlpark called Matwala’s. This orphanage is run by an old lady who converted her own house in 2003 to care for 27 children from the age of one to 19. Ms Tisch Farrell (title) announced recently that Matwala’s adopted the baby of a VUT student. The baby was only three days at the time; but is today three months old. Ms Farrell said VUT was able to provide Matwala’s with all the things the baby needed.
The campus also has poverty alleviation projects that cater for about 500 students who sometimes go to bed without a meal. These students are screened, registered and profiled according to their different backgrounds. They are later provided with food packages.
Community engagement is not just about helping others in the short term but also about working and listening to the community to develop a long-term sustainable developmental goal. It starts with the strategic objective of the university and VUT has become a beacon of hope for the community as a result.