The Student Cities Summit, a conference of great Ideas

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DPSA International Relations Chief Director presented on the OGP programme

The Student Cities Summit has kicked  off  yesterday  proving  to be  a conference  of ideas. The summit is being held at the Krystal Beach Hotel hosted by the South African Student Support Services (SASSS).

The first two days of the conference have been focused on introducing the concept of a ‘Student City’ and the structures that currently and should in future constitute a Student City.

Mrs Dilnavas Cama was also introduced to the summit this morning. She is a representative from the Ohio State University’s Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services where an innovative approach to student services and affairs has had much success. Mrs Cama will be addressing the delegates over the next few days on the practices that Ohio State University has implemented and how they could be adapted to a South African context.

Mrs Cama spoke primarily about the various ways student affairs bodies could aid and manage off-campus students through collaborative efforts with the city’s various organisational bodies.

Student Cities Summit Delegates

She introduced the various ways in which Ohio State University has done this and will speak more about these mechanisms in the days to come. Some particularly interesting points Ms Cama made in her opening remarks was the reference to Mazlo’s hierarchy of needs. If students are struggling to meet their base needs there is very little opportunity for students to prioritise academic success. It is here that one can potentially provide a structure that removes such impediments to success by looking at how to improve student’s basic quality of life.

Segomotso Sebokedi – the Chief Executive Officer of SASSS – opened the proceedings with reference to the current nature of university’s and the cities in which they reside within South Africa.

He illustrated how there is a lack of cohesion between the two entities and the detrimental effects that arise for students out of this situation. South African universities struggle with graduate output across the board and one of the solutions to rectify this should be occurring within first year through a redressing of the manner in which student affairs is handled.

Often first year students find themselves without a support structure and, ideally, student affairs body should seek to recreate the ‘village’ that most students have just moved from in order to best help those students succeed.

A representative from the Department of Higher Education and Training introducing the ideas that Mr Mduduzi Manana – the Deputy Minister of Higher Education will later pick up on during his appearance at the summit on the last day.

The essential ideas mentioned was the need to decentralise the department and bring it closer to the people, to find ways that the department can get involved and identify ways that cities can be structured to improve the experience of students.

Chief Director for International  Cooperation at the Department of Public Services and Administration, Ms Qinisile Delwa, introduced some very exciting concepts that could potentially benefit student’s day-to-day lives and their entrepreneurship opportunities through the Open Government Partnership and Open Data initiatives that are beginning to be rolled out.

Delegates at the Student Cities Summit

Government departments are making their data more accessible for citizens and, thus, allowing for opportunities for students to use this data to create new initiatives that have the potential to identify and address issues before they become problems.

A manifestation of this idea is the new app ‘Govchat’ where one can liaise directly with one’s municipal leader to vocalise their grievances.

The concept of an Outside Classroom Curriculum – as piloted by the Pittsburgh University – was introduced at the end of the second day’s session as a solution that will be discussed and analysed moving forward in the summit. This concept has had great success at Pittsburgh University and could potentially be a framework for the cities that become its student’s campus can be linked to the university and a way that universities can help create a support structure designed to facilitate its students’ growth and success.

This idea will be expanded upon as the Summit continues.