UP academics participate in SUCSESS project aimed at reducing youth unemployment

Posted on June 19, 2020

Youth unemployment is a major concern in South Africa, one which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In looking at ways to contribute towards solving the youth unemployment problem, the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Historical and Heritage Studies in the Faculty of Humanities has partnered with five other universities, both local and international, in a comprehensive three-year programme aiming to strengthen the employability of students in the business and tourism sectors.

The project is entitled ‘Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity (SUCSESS)’. Its specific focus is on collaboration between universities and industry. By benchmarking against best practices, the project will show how students benefit through experiential learning, project-based learning, and inquiry learning.

Leading the research phase of the project from UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies is Professor Berendien Lubbe, who explained that the project was made possible through substantial funding from the EU’s ErasmusPlus Capacity Building programme, and the support of UP for the research and development of innovative training and technologies.

“There are six partners in the project. In South Africa, these are the University of Pretoria, which is leading the research phase, the University of Johannesburg, and the University of Zululand. The international partners in the project are the University of Oulu and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Finland, and Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. All the partners are working towards the common goals of increasing the employability of students, and how universities or institutions of higher education can collaborate with industry, and the public sector, to ensure the students are equipped to participate effectively in Industry. This is a three-year programme, and will run until 2022,” Prof Lubbe said.

She added that the study comes at an opportune time as new, creative ways of thinking will be needed to help the tourism industry recover, especially as we walk into the unknown.

“Even in this time of the pandemic, and the resultant economic distress experienced by many, we need to look at some positives. Globally, countries including South Africa, have started to open up their economies at a surprising pace. Tourism may take more time to recover but recover it will. What we do know is that the old ways of doing things are not going to be enough. After an initial lull, new opportunities will be created with young people being well-placed to use their energy and innovative capabilities to drive change. This places a great responsibility on our lecturers and teachers. We must develop fresh ideas, and increase our collaboration with industry and government to ensure we meet their needs. As academics, we have to be flexible and look at constantly renewing our curricula to stay relevant.”

Prof Lubbe said the project intends to produce students who are not only meaningful additions to the industry, but also drive our economic growth through initiative and entrepreneurial abilities.

“The objective of the first phase in the project, which is currently underway, is to determine what industry needs, particularly as we are moving into a vastly different future from what any of us expected. We need to ask if we are releasing students who are equipped to bring refreshing, innovative ideas, and new technologies, into the workplace. The project works on the foundation that university/industry collaboration happens during the period of study and before students graduate.”

The project will be guided by best case practices from Europe, and elsewhere, where the rate of graduate employment is considered high. For her, Prof Lubbe explained, the project began as a deep-seated concern about the youth unemployment catastrophe in South Africa. “Research should address contemporary issues and have an impact on society – particularly a society ‘in crisis’. I believe that many of South Africa’s challenges stem from a frustrated youth who have talents and dreams, but who face the enormous burden of unemployment.”

The National Development Plan aims to reach an ambitious unemployment rate of 6% by 2030. “And,” Prof Lubbe said, “with this project, we are hoping to contribute to this fight through enhancing the involvement of students in our domestic economy, creating opportunities in the job market, and as entrepreneurs, thus building a more innovative and inclusive society.”

Prof Lubbe explained that the intention is to identify new methods academic staff can implement in producing work-ready students. While the programme will initially look at the tourism and business studies disciplines, the skillsets developed should ultimately support academics in other faculties and departments as well.

“If the research currently underway can inform the development and implementation of a training programme, and further promote the professional development of staff at Higher Education Institutions through diversified teaching methods and new tools, especially information and communications technologies, which enhance employability, the project will have been successful.” Prof Lubbe added.

- Author Masego Panyane

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