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University of the Free State – How to produce graduates that are not just surviving, but thriving in the new world of work

by Media Xpose

At the University of the Free State (UFS), the adaptability we focus on fostering in our graduates has become a vital part of their skills set to weather the latest workplace storms. For several years now, our graduate attributes have moved away from an exclusive focus on academics, incorporating aspects of local and international workplace requirements to stay relevant.

With academic competence remaining at the centre of our vision, aspects like critical thinking, problem solving, oral and written communication, ethical reasoning, civic engagement, and entrepreneurship currently make up the rest of our envisaged graduate attributes.

Here are five tangible, innovative ways this finds expression at the UFS:

  1. Holistic student support initiatives

Research conducted a few years ago by our Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, indicated that close to 60% of our student population suffered from food insecurity. Our No Student Hungry Bursary Programme was subsequently implemented, ensuring that this very basic need is taken care of, and that affected students receive much needed psycho-social support.

The academic success initiatives developed by our Centre for Teaching and Learning have earned us international recognition. These include language and literacy development and well-supported tutorial programmes. We also play a leading role amongst South African universities in the field of academic advising, where students’ educational paths are aligned with their career dreams.

Our Student Counselling and Development department gives psychological support in the form of individual sessions and workshops addressing a variety of issues students often grapple with, like time management, self-acceptance, and relationships.

Our Academy for Multilingualism is doing ground-breaking work to develop unique multi-lingual pedagogic strategies. On top of that, we have various peer support initiatives, focusing on developing leadership qualities and fostering involvement in different spheres of university life amongst our students. 

By focusing not only on academic success, but also on personal growth and development, we help students gain confidence in their own abilities and find their purpose. This means that they are a whole lot closer to acquiring the skills identified by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as those most in demand in the workplace – skills such as emotional intelligence, creativity and judgement and decision making.

  • Collaboration with industry partners

The UFS has various highly valued industry partners offering support in the form of bursaries and internships. We also have Faculty Advisory Boards made up of members from industry and government, ensuring that our curricula stay abreast of latest developments.

Our Interdisciplinary Centre for Digital Futures initiates projects with a multi-disciplinary approach, combining social, natural, and digital sciences to find solutions for relevant societal needs.

  • Digitalisation strategies

The UFS has developed a comprehensive digitalisation plan to find the best way of using information and communication technology as a tool for enhancing learning, research, collaboration, and decision-making.

Digitalisation at higher education institutions has become inevitable and crucial, not only because of the greater flexibility, convenience, and learning options it creates, but because digital processes are a core element in preparing students for a dynamic world of work in which technology takes centre stage.

  • Reaching out to communities through engaged scholarship

In addition to Teaching, Learning and Research, Engaged Scholarship forms one of our three core strategic pillars. Engaged Scholarship is all about linking the best of the research, teaching, and learning skills of staff and students to specific learning and development needs of society.  Almost all our academic courses have a service-learning component, where students apply what they have learned in and with communities.

In the process, we are as an institution embracing our society focused role and working towards creating graduates who are not only good students, but good citizens too. At the same time, we are working towards establishing two more WEF identified workplace skills, namely service orientation and managing people.

  • Internationalisation strategies

The UFS is a highly internationalised university with a proud history of international engagements. We strive to preserve and grow staff and student diversity, and to attract the most brilliant minds from across the globe to join our university community, leading to a 66% growth in the number of co-authored international collaborations over the past five years.

We are home to around 1 080 international students and consider our diverse university community as a core resource to incubate intercultural and international competencies and widen researchers’ international networks.

We also have an Internationalisation at Home strategy, whereby we aim to give all our students an international experience – through engagement with international students, cultural celebrations, and other curricular and co-curricular activities.

Providing students with skills and qualifications alone does not adequately equip them for the modern-day work environment. With initiatives like these, we are producing graduates that are sought-after – and thriving – in workplaces around the globe.

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