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Ten years on and beyond: How UP's Mamelodi Campus is leading the way

Posted on July 01, 2019

UP's Mamelodi Campus is celebrating 10 years of extended curriculum programmes (ECPs). However, there is much more afoot at the campus than the University’s flagship ECPs in the Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Economic Management Sciences faculties.

According to Professor Nthabiseng Ogude, Dean of the Mamelodi Campus, 2019 includes “a celebration of the service of the campus to the community”.

“As part of the celebrations, [there will be] an unveiling of a new vision which brings all the activities into one whole coherent strategy we call the Mamelodi Collaborative,” said Prof Ogude.

The Mamelodi Campus is, according to UP Vice-Chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe, “one of the key priorities in the University’s future”.

And it is initiatives such as the Mamelodi Community of Learning Collaborative (MCLC), under the guidance of Prof Ogude, that give just cause to Prof Kupe’s sentiment.

Anchor institution

At the heart of the MCLC with US-based Rutgers University-Newark, which is funded by the Kresge Foundation, is the aim to reduce the cycle of poverty that underprivileged communities face. In aid of this goal, the Kresge Foundation granted partnership funding for five-years to UP and RU-Newark in 2017 in order to implement anchor institution strategies in Mamelodi and Newark, respectively.

“What we do here is approach social issues by bringing in multi-disciplinary teams to focus on an educational ecosystem, and beyond to community and family. That should be known as our departure point,” Prof Ogude, who is also programme leader of the MCLC, explains.

In order to implement this anchor strategy philosophy, UP and RU-Newark came together in 2017 to identify five niche research areas in which to apply these strategies.

The five niche areas of primary focus in the community include:

  1. Broadening educational pathways;
  2. Leveraging arts and culture;
  3. Strong, healthy and safe neighbourhoods;
  4. Entrepreneurship and economic development; and
  5. Science and the urban environment.

The anchor strategies in these areas are handled in two ways. First, the project of broadening educational pathways consists of, arguably, the University’s most profound success to date: multi-level interventions at the pre-university level for school-going youth via after school programmes and mentoring. Secondly, for niche areas (ii) to (v), the establishment of on-campus clinics and other community-facing initiatives.

In partnership with the Gauteng Department of Education and Stats SA, the University has access to the department's database in order to monitor statistics within the Mamelodi area. By monitoring these statistics over time (data goes back to 2011), the University can mark tangible change. The pre-university programmes, aimed at learners from grade 8 and up, currently work with 500 students a week selected from all 20 high schools in Mamelodi, but hopefully the model will one day expand to accommodate 30 000 learners.

“Our purpose is not to simply repeat the talk-and-chalk of many other well-meaning NGOs and role-players,” says Prof Ogude.

The performance data of the 2018 cohort, when compared against the baseline 2011 numbers, speaks of a promising evolution. In 2018, the school district from which these students are selected placed second in Gauteng. The collected data is also used in comparative studies with the mirrored strategies of RU-Newark to keep a strong analytic awareness on the tweaks and evolution of the broadening educational pathways strategy.

The goal with the pre-university interventions, which integrate well with the flagship foundational programmes offered at the Campus, is to increase the number of first generation graduates, which the initiative hopes will have a knock-on effect towards ending cyclical poverty in families.

“The more first gen graduates we have, the higher the chance to stem the cycle of poverty,” said Prof Ogude.

To the family, the community and beyond

She describes the Mamelodi Campus as “an oasis” and says the aim of the MCLC is to “soften the hard borders” between campus and community. Undergirding this objective is the deep belief that the University of Pretoria and, indeed, universities everywhere have the ability to effect real changes in these hard-pressed communities: if they bring to bear all their resources on the challenges facing those just beyond the wall.

The second project cluster of niche areas (ii) to (v) includes the Itsoseng Psychological Clinic, the Business and Entrepreneurship Clinic, the Animal Health Clinic, the Siyathemba Clinic (occupational therapy). These clinics serve the community through both “on-campus” and “off-campus” activities. Fuelling these projects at their core is an ethos of sustainability, and due to the leveraging of students, postgrads and alumni alike, sustainability is a tool in the campus’ toolbox rather than just a well-worn piece of jargon.

“The underdog has become the top dog,” says Prof Ogude, speaking of the Mamelodi Campus.

Having successfully articulated the University’s flagship extended programmes for 10 years, it is the Campus itself as an enterprise that is fast becoming the flagship of the University. “The main campus default stigma is disappearing in front of our eyes. Students will want to come here as their first port of call,” she says.

Onalenna Diphoko, a BSc (Quantity Surveying) student said: “I was accepted into the foundation programmes and that was when my success began.”

Justin Harrison, a Physics postgrad who was one of 20 students selected to attend the 69th Nobel Laureate Meeting later this year in Lindau, Germany, got his start on the Mamelodi Campus. “I enrolled for the four-year BSc Physics Extended Programme at the Mamelodi Campus […] no matter what the obstacle, if you are determined, work hard and stay focused, there is absolutely nothing you can’t achieve.”

There is a sense of limitlessness in the air about the next 10 years on the Campus. “But it is not easy”, Prof Ogude notes, “it is a complex challenge, but we will do it.”

- Author Jonathan Tager
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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