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09 March 2020 | Story Prof Francis Petersen | Photo Sonia Small
Prof Francis Petersen
Professor Francis Petersen is the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State

The shortage of skills is a global phenomenon and employers are concerned about the need for skilled professionals to meet the demands of various sectors of their economies. This situation has reached worrying proportions in South Africa, where it has become apparent that there is a nonalignment between the skills graduates are equipped with and those that are required in the workforce. 
Moreover, the continuous contraction of the South African economy is further spurring the unemployment crisis: the weak economic performance is not sufficient to create jobs in line with the growth of the working-age population. It is also evident that skills shortages and a lack of social capital have become a systemic problem that prevents access to jobs. 

Preparing graduates for the world of work
Unemployment in South Africa is about 29%, according to Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey; the unemployment rate of people between the ages of 15 and 34 years is 56%. Earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his State of the Nation address that the country is facing its highest unemployment rate since 2008. Referring to youth unemployment as a “crisis”, the president said about two-thirds of the 1.2-million young people entering the labour market each year remain outside employment, education, or training.

There is an argument that a university graduate should not necessarily be job-ready, but must have the ability to think, to adapt and to learn relatively quickly. Even with this expectation, it is critically important to understand the world of work and to have a relationship with the job market. This is not only important from a future employment perspective, but it will also bring the job market closer to the academic curriculum and the research agenda of the university. It goes a long way towards starting to co-create solutions and conceptualising futures that are more inclusive and sustainable.

UFS interventions to improve student success
The University of the Free State (UFS) has taken collaboration with the private sector, industry, and commerce very seriously — most of the academic departments have industrial or sector-specific advisory boards through which robust discussions are taking place concerning the curriculum, appropriate funding to students, interventions to improve student success, challenges of the job market, and which research projects are essential to tackle. Through these boards, a relationship between the university, industry, the private sector, and commerce is established. This is a good starting point not only to address employment, but also to provide a catalyst for optimising an ecosystem to address the country’s economic challenges.  

UFS has also established a Short Learning Programmes office, as we believe that training and retraining workers in an ever-changing job market is essential. 
Our proactiveness in creating platforms of engagement with companies about student recruitment — as well as motivating companies, donors, and funders to employ and fund our top graduates — is evident through the work of our Career Services office. Trends in job placement are identified to help us better understand which markets to tailor our programmes to, and to create corporate partnerships for job-training opportunities. Keeping our students informed about career opportunities and equipping them with the skills and grit to make them employable — whether it is to find employment or to start their own business, is the Career Services’ goal.

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset 
Entrepreneurship has a vital role in combating unemployment. Equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset is a priority, and “entrepreneurial thinking” is one of the university’s key graduate attributes. 

UFS supports the notion that preparing young jobseekers for the ever-evolving world of work is an integral aspect of their learning at university. We offer a compulsory foundation module to expose all of our first-year students to aspects of entrepreneurship, which are also captured throughout the curriculum.  
The UFS Business School has developed initiatives and training programmes specifically aimed at entrepreneurial enterprises. Our Centre for Business Dynamics works with the business sector, helping companies to stay competitive by bridging the gap between existing skills and those required by each industry. Short courses in entrepreneurship are among the tools they use to achieve this. Practical impetus is provided to students with business ideas through our Student Business Incubator; initiatives such as Young Entrepreneurs and the local chapter of Google’s Startup Grind U further stimulate entrepreneurial thinking.

Solving the skills gap
At UFS, we have found that to help the country in solving the skills gap and allow higher education institutions to thrive, various factors, such as industry, region, and job role are important. It has become all too clear that it is not enough to have only technical knowledge — a combination of skills is required for most jobs as technology becomes an integral part of daily tasks in the workplace. Education efforts should focus on areas that set individuals apart from machines and technology. 

There is a need for graduates to evolve with career opportunities, as many employers consider critical and strategic thinking skills as fundamental in middle-management roles. Collaboration, negotiation, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, and resilience are important abilities in the workplace.

With the right skills and networks, our graduates will be able to secure employment, have enterprising mindsets to support and sustain themselves, and contribute to the development of their communities. 

A strong focus on employability as part of the core business of a university and the ability to equip our graduates with the necessary skills will remain crucial factors in the years to come. Our relationship with industry, the private sector, and commerce is crucial to driving this.

This article was published in the Mail&Guardian newspaper on 6 March 2020


News Archive

Access meets quality in UFS-Varsity College partnership for law degree
2012-07-30

 
At the event were, from the left: Mr Frank Thompson, CEO of ADvTECH, Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, and Prof. Johan Henning, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the UFS.
Photo: Johan Roux
30 July 2012

The University of the Free State (UFS) and Varsity College this week officially launched a partnership whereby the university’s Faculty of Law will offer a four-year Bachelor of Law qualification through the UFS School of Open Learning on eight Varsity College campuses nationwide. This new degree will be offered as early as 2013.

This is the fulfilment of a dream, said Prof. Johan Henning, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the university. He was one of the speakers at the event that was attended by staff members and management from the, Faculty of Law, the university’s South Campus, Varsity College and ADvTECH.

The UFS Faculty of Law is one of the oldest and most distinguished faculties of law in South Africa, and has a close association with several overseas universities which ensures that the institution is internationally recognised.

“I am very positive and enthusiastic about this new partnership. We want to make this an enriching experience for staff and students from both the university as well as Varsity College,” Prof. Henning said.

The CEO of ADvTECH, Mr Frank Thompson, said he is overjoyed about the project and its potential. Varsity College is a brand of the ADvTECH Group, a JSE listed company invested in human capital.

“This is a new beginning for Varsity College and the UFS. Learning together, the slogan for this project, is very appropriate. We are excited to add new students to the university and Varsity College’s line-up,” Mr Thompson said.

Varsity College is part of the Independent Institute of Education (IIE), the leading provider of private higher education in South Africa. According to Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the IIE, the partnership between the IIE and the university is an example of the potential that is inherent in public-private partnerships to increase the range of high quality options available to students.

Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, who also was one of the speakers at this event, said with this partnership, students will get the best of both worlds in accessing higher education.

The Faculty of Law will ensure that students obtain both a thorough grounding in legal theory, as well as a solid practical foundation, and Varsity College, through a strong commitment to innovative teaching and learning, will empower more students to become legal graduates of the highest calibre. Thus, the innovative partnership between the UFS and Varsity College will produce a Bachelor of Law degree that is highly sought after in the legal profession.

This partnership is the first of its kind, paving the way for increased collaboration between public and private tertiary institutions to best serve the education sector and the future of graduates.

“This is what is possible when two dynamic partners like the university and Varsity College come together,” Prof. Jansen said.
 

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