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18 March 2020 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Members of the Faculty of Education Academic Advisory Board at its inaugural meeting held on the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein Campus.

A first of its kind for the University of the Free State (UFS), the Faculty of Education Academic Advisory Board (AAB) was inaugurated on 5 March 2020 to provide guidance on developing industry-driven academic programmes.

Chairman of the Board and Dean of the faculty, Prof Loyiso Jita, explained the relevance of the structure. “Essentially, the Board is there to provide advice to the faculty on how we can be at the top of our game, connect with practitioners out there, and give ourselves an edge both in terms of our strategic research goals as well as raising the required finance to run our programmes effectively.”

A future-focused faculty
At its first sitting on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus, the Board made recommendations which the faculty has committed to implementing. The first suggestion put forward was to align the faculty to the larger higher-learning industry and education practitioners.

Bridging the gap between the institution and these stakeholders is of utmost significance: “There is still a feeling that we universities operate as ivory towers. Everything that we do, whether it is research, engaged scholarship, or teaching, has to be anchored in the practice. It has to be designed to influence and in most cases to change the practice in our communities,” added Prof Jita.

Other key focus areas identified include science and mathematics education. Prof Jita leads the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) Research Chair that focuses on science education in the country. In the first five years of its existence, the Chair has helped graduates achieve 28 PHDs, eight master’s degrees, and has produced 66 publications. Prof Jita revealed that the Sanral Chair has challenged itself to double these statistics in the next five years.

Childhood development
Early Childhood Development (ECD), as a development zone will be championed as recommended by the Board. According to the Dean: “We have developed a strength as a faculty in that we have been leading in curriculum development in the area of ECD and have even hosted a number of workshops for other universities.”

Subsequent to that, the faculty has also decided to shine a spotlight on literacy. A project plan is pending submission to the National Research Foundation (NRF) for funding.

Long-term sustainability
The Advisory Board made a commitment to help the faculty develop more durable partnerships with industry players instead of the usual year-to-year collaborations. Undertaking the task to develop medium- to long-term partnerships of three to five years would be helpful because that could result in more sustainable projects and funding. A progress report is expected by the Board at its follow-up meeting scheduled for November 2020. 

Why an Academic Advisory Board?
Academic Advisory Boards are established across higher-learning institutions to ensure development aligned with regional, local, and global standards. Our Faculty of Education intends to use this structure to assist in terms of strategic direction and quality assurance of curriculum development and content delivery. Generally, the establishment of active AABs seeks to ensure that graduates comply with the expectations of the workplace, curriculum relevance for industry and the inclusion of the necessary knowledge, skills and attributes graduates will need in their specific fields.

Its purpose is to also assist in formulating and achieving strategic objectives, help make the connection between academic knowledge and “real work” skills, build a list of practitioners who could serve as classroom and graduation guest speakers, and create opportunities for students to learn workplace skills by providing suitable internship locations.

The Faculty of Education’s Board consists of the chief executive officers (CEOs) from the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP SETA); the South African Council for Educators (SACE),the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) and Umalusi. In addition to the CEOs are six external members, three Heads of Schools, the Programme Director for Research and Engaged Scholarship, the Assistant Dean of the faculty at the Qwaqwa Campus, the Vice-Dean, as well as the Dean. 

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