Interaction with learners

Going from high school to college can be…

At the start of the new academic year, universities must address the usual critical issues that demand attention if they are to have a successful academic year. Most of these issues include the admission and registration of students who have recently achieved outstanding matric pass rates.

But it is not just about ensuring a registration process which should be as easy to navigate as possible and supported by sound information technology. Students expect to be welcomed into friendly and supportive environments when they first join the University community.

These new students are not just “freshmen”, or “freshmen”, or any other pejorative name often attached to them. These are university customers — they demand excellent and impeccable service the moment they set foot on university grounds for the first time.

“The key here is that the customer is the product.” With one of her favorite catchphrases, University of Johannesburg (UJ) Executive Committee Member Dr. Nolitha Vukuza reminded me and her colleagues how a real university should treat its students.

The occasion was a meeting with the new UJ Chancellor, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Time and again, Dr. Vukuza has emphasized that a true university should treat students as its customers and, conversely, as its products.

The importance of this cannot be stressed enough, especially in a country like ours, due to our persistent socio-economic challenges. For many students, the start of the year is a stressful time. They must leave their homes for new environments without the necessary resources as they embark on a new journey in their lives. There may be a few students who are lucky enough to be “drove” to college by their parents and with luggage full of all sorts of necessities, but the vast majority arrive on their own with meager belongings. and is unsure of his place of residence.

Others get lost in towns and villages and must brave the dreaded scourge of crime and criminality. For some, the campus becomes a real labyrinth, a place full of complex passages and dead ends.

During my walkabout at UJ recently, I had a conversation with a group of students. I asked what their first day in class was like. They were unanimous in their answer: they had already toured the campus to find their lecture halls. This was an important step to take, as even those who lived in boarding schools might find college life just as difficult as those who attended homeschooling.

The key is therefore that universities have a team of professionals who provide a friendly and welcoming environment. They should offer much-needed advice to help students make the transition from secondary school to higher education, regardless of their social and economic background.

This should start with a good orientation so that students can understand the environment of the university as they begin to integrate into its culture. Such guidance should include its physical features such as infrastructure such as lecture halls, laboratories, libraries around campus and beyond, as well as academic programs and health and wellness facilities.

We cannot underestimate how intimidating the university environment is for students, as they have different personalities and come from different backgrounds.

More often than not, students starting college are assumed to know what they want to study because they applied for specific programs. But as experience has shown, a number of them are still unsure of their plans and the specific programs they wish to study.

No wonder cases of students changing study programs after the first year, or even mid-year, are commonplace. In fact, there have been reports of students starting completely new programs after completing their undergraduate degree. At worst, some have given up.

The reality is that many schools, especially those in rural areas, do not have career guidance programs. In many cases, their programs are not aligned with the demands of the modern labor market. Thus, students only discover later in their studies that what they enrolled for is incompatible with their talents and preferred careers. These are questions that should not be taken for granted, whether the orientation program takes place online or face-to-face, if students are to be considered customers in the truest sense of the word.

Unfortunately, most programs are likely to be full and not be able to accommodate students wishing to change their courses as they find out where their interests lie. Issues such as career guidance need to be taken seriously, starting at school level.

The government, through the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education, should foster strategic partnerships with universities and the private sector to provide career guidance at the secondary level, at least. The value of these programs may not seem tangible at the initial stage, but their long-term benefits will be immeasurable when they go to institutions of higher learning.

There is nothing more painful than dropping out of college – not because of poor grades, but for placing yourself in the wrong program.

Research from the National University of Caaguazú, Paraguay — titled Beware of the gap between high school and university! — observed: “In the phase of entry into the new university environment, the student may be more vulnerable and exposed to critical experiences. Transfer determines, in effect, a change from dependent to independent learner, from studying in a carefully controlled environment with a highly regulated timetable to a new phase of life where learners manage their time and take decisions in a more responsible adult way. ”

The study further revealed that “school dropout imposes a heavy economic burden on society, in terms of resources used, costs incurred, and the amount of individual and collective investment in human capital that turns out to be an unproductive loss. “.

This is about the future that may be at stake and as a nation we need to step up and guide these students.

Another area of ​​serious concern in universities is the health, safety and security of students. The best service we can offer our new and existing clients at universities is an environment that promotes their well-being in terms of health standards such as cleanliness, diet and interaction with others.

All students deserve a safe and secure living and learning environment free from the risk of physical and emotional harm. This safety and well-being must include the scourge of gender-based violence that afflicts our country today. Universities need to invest more resources to create safer and healthier living spaces for everyone on campus.

The reality is that when students interact during class and other activities, what they eat, how they eat, and where they eat is paramount. While I do not pretend to be paternalistic, it is imperative that we do not further expose and condemn vulnerable people to a difficult life of hunger and despair.

And how about exercise and gym facilities in open spaces? It is “a healthy mind in a healthy body”, as the Greek philosopher Thales so aptly put it.

As a customer, the student wants to have the best learning experience with minimal disruption and obstacles. This can only be achieved if there is good service from the university leadership, starting with the council, senate, executives, administrative and support staff, and academic staff. Good service means a dedication to professionalism, a strong work ethic and thoroughness in delivery.

As a product, the student looks forward to the day when he struts across the stage in these auditoriums, reveling in hearing his name announced among the graduates in the presence of his parents. As universities are busy helping students, let us not forget that it is the great products that will one day become part of their alumni, which will also contribute to the development of the university in the future.

As a nation, we must remember that among the myriad institutions to be preserved are the universities, which are important for posterity. This is one of the roles I have enjoyed in life, serving an academic institution like the University of Johannesburg.

Universities should be professionally run and managed for the benefit of the customer and the product. DM

Mike Teke is Chairman of UJ and CEO of Seriti Resources. He writes on a personal basis.