Taking The Campus-Community Outreach and Engagement to the Next Level

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Pic: Durban University of Technology

The Student Cities Summit will be hosted on 26-29 March 2017 at the picturesque Krystal Beach Hotel (www.krystalbeach.co.za) in Gordon`s Bay, Cape Town. The summit will happen against the backdrop of the crisis facing the public post-secondary sector with the advent of the recent #feesmustfall student uprising in South Africa.

The crisis facing our education system – from primary to tertiary education – requires of us a sense of common purpose and unity that is inherent in our common genetic heritage as South Africans. The challenges require various stakeholders – the public sector and corporate South Africa – and civic society to demonstrate unity and patriotism to rally around the common purpose to create learning opportunities for our children and the youth.

The Student Cities Summit is a small but noble contribution to respond to the clarion call by the Minister of Education for innovative contributions towards providing support to student communities and tertiary institutions. The South African Student Support Services believes that “It Takes a Village to Educate a Child”, and that it is only when the village come together that we will find common solutions to the common challenges facing student communities today.

One of the common challenges facing the public and private post-secondary sector is the low completion and graduate rates in colleges and universities today. For every 100 students who enter college or university today, only about 15 will complete in the minimum time required. Resident students are more likely to pass at a higher rate than commuter students due to access to academic and non-academic support in residences and an on-campus. Resident students are often exposed to a conducive to living and learning environment, combined with mentorship and residence life programming that contributes.

Unlike the relative comfort of residence students, commuter students in most colleges and universities are faced with a myriad of challenges that often leads to failure and drop-out from their studies. What worsens the challenge is that both college and university towns and the institutions themselves have no systems in place to deal with the perennial problem of commuter students. One of the best ways to be responsive to the plight of commuter students is to cultivate healthy and sustainable Town Gown relations.

Town and gown are two distinct communities of a university town; “town” being the non-academic population and “gown” metonymically being the university community, especially in ancient seats of learning such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews, although the term is also used to describe modern university towns as well as towns with a significant public school. The metaphor is historical in its connotation but continues to be used in the literature on urban higher education and in common parlance.

According to Wikipedia it was in the 12th century, when the early medieval universities came into existence – first in Italy and then across Europe – they were founded without physical campuses. The masters simply rented lecture halls in the host cities. Early on, there were few identifiable campus buildings (other than the residential colleges that were established at some universities). Most students took lodging in the university towns. The scholars often congregated in identifiable areas of cities, most famously the Left Bank (Rive gauche) of the Seine in Paris – what became known as the Quartier Latin (“The Latin Quarter”, due to the use of spoken Latin).

Thus, the medieval institutions were more integrated into the cities than in the case of the Academy. It is no accident that most medieval universities were founded within cities. The schools’ existence required a permanent population and an infrastructure that included a vibrant marketplace and system of governance, but their dependence on the host towns was limited. Since these early times, the town gown relations have diminished over time, with each entity operating exclusive from each other, to the detriment of its student communities. In South Africa the problem is even more acute and pronounced.

Over the centuries, the relationship between town and gown has remained ambivalent. There have been points where a university in crisis has been rescued by the urban dynamics surrounding it, while at other times, urban developments have threatened to undermine the stability of the university. Conversely, there have been occasions where the university provided a focus and coherence for the cultural life of the city; though at other times, it has withdrawn into itself and undermined urban culture.

The Student Cities Summit will provide a platform for “thought-leaders” to explore this untapped area of focus that will provide impetus to the creation of sustainable town gown relations that will enhance the quality of the student experience in the college and university towns in South Africa. With eighty percent of the almost two million of tertiary students living off-campus in the student cities, it is imperative that we strengthen the “Optimal Town Gown Marriage” in order to “Take

The Campus-Community Outreach and Engagement to the Next Level”.

To register for the Student Cities Summit CLICK HERE