South Africa has just celebrated 25 years of democracy and ushered in its sixth administration with the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa a few weeks ago. Our relatively young democracy mirrors the demographics of South Africa – approximately 37% of our population is defined as ‘young people’ (those aged 14 to 35 years).
At the University of Pretoria (UP), we see the hopes and dreams for the future of South Africa in our more than 50 000 students on a daily basis. This bodes well for our country, because each of our graduates leaves UP a well-rounded, multi-skilled individual who is an asset to the world beyond their university life.
As UP commemorates Youth Month, it is imperative that our students and staff are cognisant of the pivotal role that young people play in shaping our collective tomorrows. The 1976 youth uprising helped intensify the international effort against apartheid, and marked the beginning of the demise of the regime.
Today we celebrate the progress we have made as a nation 25 years into our democracy. We rejoice in the fact that our communities are committed to working towards giving our youth equitable access to education, from basic education to higher education (at universities, universities of technology and training and vocational colleges). At UP we have set ourselves a goal of increasing access by growing student enrolments to 75 000 by 2025. We are already the largest contact university in the country and, by making education more accessible while continuously improving quality, we ensure that our students are able to play a meaningful role in changing our society. South Africa’s youth must be free to carve out their own destinies and create a new future for themselves, their families and their communities – and UP remains a committed partner in creating these educated leaders of change.
Youth unemployment is one of South Africa’s most pressing challenges. Our response to this is to provide high-quality education and equip our students with the scarce skills our country so desperately needs. We constantly re-examine our curricula to ensure our students receive relevant training to prepare them for an ever-changing work environment.
UP’s Ready for Work programme plays a key role in boosting our students’ confidence as they graduate and take on the challenges facing our larger societies. Thanks to the training they receive, our students are able to grasp and build upon any opportunity that comes their way after graduation. As a UP student, they have access to free online courses that prepare them for the job market and help them land a job via training in all the necessary workplace skills. Additionally, our Entrepreneurship programme helps students learn to be their own bosses and start and grow their own businesses. We are proud to note that 93% of our students are employed or furthering their studies within six months of graduating. The economic impact of this high employment and entrepreneurship rate among our students has a lasting legacy on families, and transforms lives throughout South Africa, Africa and the world. This is testimony not only to the quality of our educational offering, our graduates and their employability, but also to our students’ impressive work ethic.
UP is proud to be home to such a large and diverse cohort of students who continue to impress us with their can-do approach, problem-solving abilities, critical thinking, diligence, collaborative endeavours and their passion.
On this Youth Day, let us take a moment to honour and celebrate our youth, think about what we can learn from our students, and ruminate on how their youthful spirit and energy can inspire us to make today, and every day, matter.
Professor Tawana Kupe
Vice-Chancellor and Principal