A community engagement initiative at the University of Pretoria (UP) injects more than R60 million into the economy a year.
This is part of the university’s large-scale learning project embedded into the curriculum.
Details of the initiative were revealed by UP’s community engagement manager Gernia van Niekerk at a three-day virtual summit. Organised by the university and the University Social Responsibility Network, the biennial summit allows academics, researchers and practitioners a forum to assess the progress made by partner universities on their social responsibility endeavours.
It started on Wednesday and ended on Friday and was attended by representatives from 16 network partner universities from around the world. The network was established in 2015 and UP is the only African university that is part of it.
Van Niekerk divulged details of the project on Wednesday in a presentation under the theme Becoming a Socially Responsible University.
She said UP started with community service in 1920 following the Spanish flu pandemic and world wide depression.
Her presentation, she said, focused on last year when the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic hit.
Ventures under the initiative include Moja Gabedi and Reliable House projects, which restructure social environments with serious signs of urban decay around the UP’s seven campuses – in Hatfield, Hillcrest, Groenkloof, Prinshof, Onderstepoort, Mamelodi and the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg.
The Moja Gabedi project has turned a dump site in Park and Festival streets in Hatfield, which was becoming a haven for homeless people and drug dealers, into a site for gardening, fish ponds and learning space for engineering students working in partnership with the community.
Work on the site started in 2016 and houses were also built for the homeless people. Innocent Chauke was employed as a site manager.
Van Niekerk said rolling out engagement initiatives for community development purposes enabled a university to understand and deal with various complexities and dynamics.
“In essence, a [socially responsible university] refers to a range of curricular and co-curricular initiatives that aim to educate university students to be socially responsive and transformative leaders, and to mobilise the expertise and other resources of universities to address the myriad societal challenges currently facing the world,” she said.
UP’s model for community engagement, she said, had 300 academic modules in nine faculties and 110 lecturers and more than 30 000 students.
These students spend an average of 40 hours in community service working with more than 1 000 community partners in 3 000 projects at a cost of R255 per student a year. “UP contributes more than R60 million per year to the local economy in terms of working hours and R6 billion in terms of the imputed value to its community work,” Van Niekerk said.
She said being socially responsive and sensitive to the environment and the world required a constant sense of awareness, risk taking, innovative thinking and prepared for unforeseen challenges.
“With skilful leadership [a socially responsible university] as a diverse, socially responsive and future-oriented practice can turn into a vehicle for transformation, reverse social engineering and correct the mistakes of the past,” she said.
A number of topics were discussed during the summit.
According to UP’s vice-principal: academic, Professor Norman Duncan, the summit provided an important opportunity for partners to sharpen their understanding of university social responsibility at the levels of theory, research and practice and to develop collaborative projects with varied scopes and scales within the network.