UP launches publication on its student success strategy

Posted on March 22, 2022

The University of Pretoria (UP) has launched a new publication entitled Student Success at the University of Pretoria, 2009 –2019: A Systemic, Intentional and Data-Informed Strategy. As explained in the preface, “the publication provides an exposé of the evolution of an increasingly complex and comprehensive student success strategy”.

During the virtual launch, Professor Norman Duncan, Vice-Principal: Academic at UP, who drove the initiative, said the publication is an important development in the scholarship of teaching and learning at the University, and is a tangible demonstration of UP’s ongoing commitment to student success. “The publication is not only an opportunity for other tertiary institutions to learn from UP’s successes, but also for critical engagement with their peers at UP and elsewhere so that the quality of instruction at UP can be continuously improved,” he said.

Editor of the publication Professor Wendy Kilfoil acknowledged the contribution of each author and expressed appreciation to the Department of Higher Education and Training for the Teaching Development grant and the University Capacity Development grant. These endowments enabled UP to pilot and scale many of the initiatives that are now integral to the student support system. Siyaphumelela and the Kresge Foundation were also credited for helping to build capacity in the use of data to enhance student success.

“Academics always care about the success of their students,” Prof Kilfoil said. “It is clear, however, that student success is about more than marks, and that the whole university needs to be involved to address student realities holistically. Leadership is core to ensuring a systemic approach.”

She also thanked Prof Duncan for his role in leading the intentional development and integration of student success initiatives, and for his inclusive leadership practices that came to the fore in the chapter he authored.

“The publication showcases institutional successes, and moves beyond the traditional institutional repository,” said Lindiwe Soyizwapi, Director of Library Services, in her keynote address. Soyizwapi also spoke about the particular initiatives undertaken by the Department of Library Services to support student success at UP.

The concept of open access was addressed as a key feature of UP’s commitment to shaping scholarship practices to enhance greater equity and access to information. The University is a signatory of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. “The democratisation of information and education emphasises the value of public access to knowledge held by libraries and institutions, especially publicly funded institutions,” Soyizwapi said. “Information exchange leads to an acceleration of discovery. It’s about making scholarship findable and shareable through open, interoperable metadata and long-term preservation.”

Soyizwapi also highlighted the importance of building repositories such as UPSpace, the University’s open-access electronic repository. UPSpace was recently ranked number one in Africa and 109th in the world by Webometrics Rankings for Institutional Repositories. The repository houses not only research publications, but also a substantial collection of artefacts related to the scholarship of teaching and learning, including this latest student success publication. UPSpace is also home to several other significant collections. “Our decisions are not driven by rankings of institutional repositories,” Soyizwapi said. “We believe in showcasing what we do as well as sharing valuable collections.”

Various academics brought their knowledge to the publication. The data analytics chapter reflects the work of Dr Juan-Claude Lemmens and Dolf Jordaan of the Department for Education Innovation at UP, and that of Hugo Mouton of the Institutional Research and Analytics unit. Prof Kilfoil lauded the synergy between Education Innovation and Institutional Research, Information Technology Services and faculties as a critical success factor in the development of an integrated student success system. Tutoring also benefitted from the synergy between the Education Innovation Department and the faculties.

Professor Marietjie Potgieter, a former Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, and Dr Ina Louw, an education consultant for the faculty, provided a contribution on staff development to support student success; while Professor Ana Naidoo, who consolidated and professionalised advising by forming a community of practice, also contributed a chapter to the publication. UP was the first university in South Africa to offer faculty student advising.

The idea of student agency is central to student success, and was conceptualised by Prof Duncan midway through the decade under review. It is characterised by what students themselves can do to ensure their success in the minimum amount of time, including making the best use of support provided in terms of tutors and advisors. Working with Prof Naidoo and Jordaan, [email protected] (which stands for the Finish Line is Yours) was born. Dr Hestie Byles was appointed as a dedicated manager to ensure the campaign’s success, and her contribution to the volume focuses on how [email protected] gave students a chance to voice their ideas. A later initiative involved conducting research into the well-being of students as a contributor to academic success. It was also an attempt to elicit student voices. Professor Irma Eloff’s offering to the publication details this idea.

The work-readiness and entrepreneurship drives extended the notion of student success beyond university. To this end, a free online programme – driven by Dr Liebenberg of the Career Services unit, Professor Rehana Vally of the Faculty of Humanities and Professor Alex Antonites of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences – was developed. Their work is acknowledged in Student Success.

“Many people have a story to tell of their contributions to our student success system,” Prof Kilfoil said. “Developments since 2019 have also been significant. We can add internally to our stories, but we can also publish to ensure that we reach the widest audience and influence practices nationally and internationally.”

The final speaker during the launch was Professor Marietjie Potgieter, in the Department of Chemistry, who echoed Prof Duncan’s opening remarks about UP’s commitment to student success. She recognised the ongoing task of ensuring student success, especially in light of the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am deeply convinced that this organisation, this ecosystem, has the makings to achieve the dream as testified to by this publication,” she said. “The stage is set to deal effectively with the post-pandemic reality of working towards and achieving student success.”

In line with UP’s commitment to open access, the publication was published with a Creative Commons licence and can be accessed from UPSpace at http://hdl.handle.net/2263/84491

Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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