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As school leavers and first-time university applicants begin their higher education journey, quality of education, full-time employment opportunities and the future of work are the top-of-mind factors informing their decisions.
Over and above the shrinking job market, automation and redundancy, and ever-increasing unemployment among South African’s youth, flexibility, sustainability and equality are important for younger generations. So, what role should universities play in preparing students for a working world that is constantly changing?
Universities are adapting to meet the desires of young people as well as the requirements of businesses. The traditional structures, courses and programmes of universities are changing, not only due to the disruptions and restrictions caused by the pandemic, but also to respond to the demands of the future of the working world.
A shift to multidisciplinary programmes
‘’There is a paradigm shift in academics pertaining to multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways of producing graduates relevant for the twenty-first century,” says Dr Phumeza Kota-Nyati, Dean: Learning and Teaching at Nelson Mandela University. ‘’Universities and their faculties are being reimagined to revitalise their transformative potential and become vibrant, dynamic spaces of higher learning,’’ says Dr Kota-Nyati.
Right now, these are the kinds of changes you can expect… At Nelson Mandela University, the humanities faculty is being revitalised and integrated into all disciplines, while associated fields of study like engineering, finance and IT are being included in cross-disciplinary programmes to offer students a rich, multifaceted experience.
“To be relevant in the financial space of the future, an accounting student will need to understand the logic behind how an automated financial transaction is processed and also feed that logic into automated systems. Therefore, they would need to have a deeper understanding of a blend of fields like accounting, economics, IT and engineering,’’ she says.
It can be discouraging for a young person to pursue higher education with the expectation that few employment opportunities exist, even with a university qualification. In a country with an unemployment rate of 46.3% among young people aged between 15 and 34 years, students should be encouraged to explore entrepreneurship and nurtured to excel in the field.
“Having a university qualification goes beyond just landing a job,” says Dr Kota-Nyati. “It cultivates personal growth, imparts valued skills, empowers people to think for themselves and opens up entrepreneurial opportunities. We have heavily invested in entrepreneurial programmes to provide students with real-life experiences of running a business and this, together with our webinars, is delivering on preparing students to launch businesses of their own,” says Dr Kota-Nyati.
Support beyond the lecture hall
The university experience of 2022’s first-years is going to be very different in a traditional sense. Many Grade 11s and matrics have had to adjust to a hybrid learning approach, so universities are taking steps to ensure that any gaps (academically speaking) created by disruptions in learning caused by the pandemic can be bridged. This will enable the university to address gaps in learning and step in to take a student to the next level. More student support initiatives will be carried out, such as student success coaching, writing consultations, mentoring, tutoring, and student counselling and wellness.
Offering micro courses – including mental health – in the curriculum
Universities such as the University of Cape Town (UCT) recently launched the new Mental Health, Mindfulness, and Self-Care two-week online micro course. This highly-focused course assists students with mindfulness and self-care techniques to empower themselves and others in prioritising mental health. We’re totally here for this!