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University of South Africa strengthens for positive impact on society

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To advance robotics through science engagement, the region’s Tuition Support and Facilitation of Learning Unit has collaborated with the institution’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) to present robotics and digital skills training to Unisa registered students, staff and external communities. Though the project was initiated in the Gauteng Region, it is extending to other regions.

Additionally, the unit has collaborated with other regions and the Student Retention Unit on an Early Alert Student Support Programme. “The purpose of this initiative is to identify students through analytics at an early study stage and support them with various strategies that can assist them to succeed in their studies,” says Moipone Masalesa, Unisa’s Gauteng Regional Director. She adds: “The focus is mainly on high-risk modules with high failure rates. Students are then referred to assistive programmes such as academic literacies, tutorial support, and the counselling unit for study skills and emotional support.” Masalesa explains that these efforts culminate into research outputs.

Valuable community engagement projects
Understanding the value of community engagement (CE) projects in society, Unisa’s Tirisano Centre has partnered with Lefika la Botshabelo Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Centre to offer life skills and career choice support to orphans. “Most of these orphans have passed their matric and are registered at institutions of higher learning. Some of them have completed their post-matric qualifications and are now working at the centre as care workers to give back to the community that uplifted them,” explains Masalesa. She continues: “The university also offers them parenting skills to enable them to care for other orphaned families.”

The Gauteng Region and the College of Education (CEDU) have also partnered on a CE project in Tshidzivhe, Limpopo, focusing on climate change. Masalesa notes that the project shares indigenous knowledge to preserve nature and restore what has been lost due to climate changes. On a separate partnership, she says that the Unisa Library and the City of Ekurhuleni Library and Information Services, City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipal Libraries and Information Services, and Mogale City Local Municipality have improved access to library material for Unisa students. “They can request books online to be couriered at the university’s cost to participating libraries in their respective areas,” she adds.

To promote research and innovation, the region conducts workshops for students and staff to advance their research capacity. It also hosts writing retreats for staff and seminars with speakers from sister universities. Collaborating with various internal and external stakeholders such as the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID), the region also helps the youth and women to build their skills in areas such as digital, poultry farming, sewing, baking and estates. In late 2022, the university held a certificate ceremony honouring the first group of participants thereof.

Masalesa remarks: “As part of 150th anniversary celebrations, Reclaiming Africa’s Intellectual Futures, the Gauteng Region will host two main events this year, the 3rd Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo Annual Memorial Lecture, which is meant to uphold, promote and preserve the legacy of OR Tambo as a student leader.” She adds: “The second event is the Shaping Futures Golf Challenge, in collaboration with Unisa Foundation and Unisa Alumni Relations offices. The challenge aims to raise funds for financially needy and academically deserving students.”

To further reclaim Africa’s intellectual futures, Masalesa indicates that the region will also showcase the achievements of Unisa student leaders by profiling them on various channels to encourage excellence in other students.

In closing, Masalesa encourages Unisa students and staff to work hard to ensure that Africa has future intellectuals who can maintain good values relevant to leadership positions.