The sound of Gaudeamus Igitur sung or performed at university or college graduation ceremonies often marks the end of the official relationship between a student and the institution of higher learning. Strong personal bonds and memories created over time can become abruptly fragmented.
But things do not have to end that way. Even after they have long been conferred a diploma or degree, many graduates still have a special affinity for their alma mater and have a willingness to plough back. Their efforts can ensure the success of current students and the institution’s long-term sustainability.
Malesela Maubane and Shalate Davhana first met 23 years ago, barely out of our teens in the journalism class at the erstwhile Technikon Northern Gauteng (TNG).
Malesela travelled about 240km, the distance from Mohlonong village in the Limpopo Province to what is now the Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) Soshanguve campus.
On any other day, the taxi trip to Soshanguve from Polokwane would have meant him booking into a hotel or guesthouse before joining the queue at the Gencor Hall in order to secure a space to study. The spirit of ubuntu prevailed as accommodation was safely secured at House 1611 Block H.
Shalate walked over the hill from the nearby Block K with just a R5 coin, handed to her from her mother’s apron pocket as she was sweeping the yard that morning. She’d kept the money for a “kota” instead of fare for a local taxi, with the snaking queues witnessed every January through the bus window on the travels to and from her high school still fresh in her mind.
Nevertheless, even with limited resources the pair made it to the graduation day three years later, all thanks to a combination of tuition funding schemes and contributions to their living expenses from family and friends. Twenty-three years later, these challenges still exist for some students.
The financial crises faced by many institutions of higher learning is partially as a result of rising student debts and outstanding fees, therefore any additional source of income is crucial to the operations of these institutions. The situation is further exacerbated by the global Covid-19 pandemic, as parents or guardians find themselves out of work or having to take salary reductions.
Amid the Covid-19 lockdown, by the end of May and for the 2020 academic year, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) had reportedly disbursed R12-billion to higher education institutions to fund students. This is a commendable effort by the student financial aid administrator, though there is a need to address the plight of the “missing middle”. These are students whose parents or guardians earn above the R350 000 combined annual household income threshold set by the NSFAS and thus do not qualify for government funding.
Numerous universities and colleges have set up scholarships or bursary funds to assist financially needy and academically performing students. Granted that there is a global economic downturn, alumni can still “pay it forward” through small, consistent contributions towards such funds and prevent potential drop-outs.
In the context of corporate communication, the concept of alumni giving their time, money, skills and expertise to benefit the community and environment within their alma mater’s area of service can be written down to corporate social investment expenditure, which is outside the organisation’s ordinary business practice and developmental in its approach. These efforts play an important role in extending the university or college’s brand and enhancement of its reputation.
Alumni possess a special advantage as advisers to universities or colleges on how to best tackle daily challenges of students and promote a more conducive learning environment, since they have hands-on experience of academic and campus life.
They can provide voluntary tutoring and mentorship to students, share coping strategies and further expose students to the corporate and business environment through company visits and internship opportunities.
Introduction of concepts like conversations with industry leaders can also assist in enhancing social and professional skills of students, thus preparing them for the corporate world through engagement with experts from various professions.
On the matter of service, the late author, educationalist and first African Chancellor of the University of the North (now the University of Limpopo), Dr Moses Josiah Madiba, had this to say: “Service to one’s people is the rent you pay for your stay on earth.”
Reunions and networking sessions can also serve as valuable opportunities for alumni to exchange ideas and share experiences while promoting membership of the alumni association. Besides their social elements, if strategically linked to alumni engagements with current students, they can serve as catalysts towards a comprehensive value chain and system for work and business opportunities.
Various higher education institutions annually implement social responsibility activities to commemorate special days such as the International Nelson Mandela Day. This could be connected to responsible citizenry, further a commitment to managing the triple-bottom line social, environmental and economic effects.
Alumni can collaborate with universities or colleges on sustainable community outreach programmes. Programmes like the winter school for high schools, computer literacy in communities and coding skills can go a long way in attracting prospective students and towards skills development among the youth and unemployed.
The saying goes: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Alumni should strive to be part of the solution by playing their part in the continuous development of their alma mater therefore contributing to its long-term success and sustainability, and by extension the country’s growth and development.
Malesela Maubane is a Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) alumna and convener of the University of South Africa (Unisa) alumni, Polokwane chapter. Shalate Davhana is a Unisa postgraduate, TUT alumnus and staff member. They write in their personal capacities