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20 March 2018 Photo Charl Devenish
Town and Gown programme to expand university reach in communities
Prof Petersen signs an MOU with Princess Motshabi Moroka, patron of the Princess Gabo Foundation, at the launch of the Town and Gown programme.

The University of the Free State (UFS), through the office of Community Engagement, launched the Town and Gown programme on 13 March 2018 at the Bloemfontein Campus. The programme seeks to demonstrate the university’s commitment to building sustainable partnerships in communities and its surrounding towns. It aims to be integrally involved in addressing societal challenges, as well as to avail its intellectual and academic resources to partner with civic and religious organisations, government entities and business communities.

Engaged scholarship central to institutional strategy

In his welcoming remarks, Prof Nicky Morgan Acting Vice Rector: Institutional Change and Student Affairs, said: “The university is not complete without its community and in the same way the community should benefit from the university. This has been encompassed in the newly launched Integrated Transformation Plan (ITP) which has community engagement as one of its components.”  The event was attended by representatives of the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, NGOs, religious and traditional leaders, student structures and UFS staff members.

Prof Francis Petersen: Rector and Vice Chancellor, said the university ought to articulate community engagement differently from what other organisations would do, by showcasing engaged scholarship and using teaching and research to make a difference. He emphasised the importance of being close enough to communities to be able to ascertain their needs in such a way that the component of community is brought into the classroom and in the university’s research.

Expansion of community outreach under way
The long-standing ties between the university and communities in the Free State span many years, during which time various collaborative projects have been established with, among others, Non Profit Organisations (NPOs), such as Bloemshelter, faith-based organisations, and traditional leadership structures.

To date, the UFS has supported programmes in education, health, law and rural development through service-learning programmes, involving students and academics in various fields. The target of the Town and Gown programme is to reach out further to include new partnerships in the Motheo Metro Municipality, Maluti-a-Phofung District Municipality, and Kopanong Local Municipality.

Long-standing partnerships strengthened
At the event, several memoranda of understanding (MOU) were signed to confirm five-year collaborative agreements between the university and partner organisations, one of which is the Princess Gabo Foundation based in Thaba Nchu. Bishop Billyboy Ramahlele, Director: Community Engagement said that the MOUs would strengthen partnership with the communities in research, community service learning, and volunteer programmes.

The Town and Gown initiative is a step taken to re-affirm the university’s commitment to partnering with stakeholders in strengthening the capacity of surrounding towns, metros and the Free State region as a whole.

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