Community-University Engagement For A Transformative Higher Education .

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RUFORUM Triennial Thought Pieces: ISSUE 23Community-University Engagement for aTransformative Higher Education in Africa:Experience from Gulu UniversityThe need for a transformative approach tohigher education.The cardinal role of highereducation in generating knowledge, building humancapital and translating knowledge into technologicalinnovations is key to sustainable development ble society. The societal benefit from highereducation investment is largely realised when humancapital translates knowledge and innovations intoproducts and services that provide solutions to societalneeds. Ultimately, this development trajectory shouldlead to vibrant business development concomitantProf George Ladaah OpenjuruVice Chancellor, Gulu UniversityUgandawith employment creation. The global youth population is expected to reach 1.3 billion by2030, with the majority projected to be concentrated in Africa. Theoretically, such a vast youthpopulation should be a driver for social well-being, wealth creation and economic growth andprosperity in Africa. Unfortunately, the reality is that youths in Africa are mainly redundantand lack decent employment, with educated graduates worst affected. This redundant youthpopulation is a potential recipe for instigation and propagation of instability and conflict. Ithas become a key factor contributing to the African migrant crisis on the European high seas!This situation raises a question about how higher education institutions in Africa should betransformed to contribute to sustainable society and wellbeing. This thought piece presentsGulu University's experience of strategic institutional transformation that African higherContact Us: Page 1 of 5Website: Join the Conversation #AfricaHEWeek2021

RUFORUM Triennial Thought Pieces: ISSUE 23education institutions may undertake to position themselves as drivers of community socioeconomic transformation.The historical context underpinning Gulu University's choice oftransformative education.Northern Uganda, the location of Gulu University,experienced a protracted 30-years of armed conflict between the Government of Uganda andthe Lord’s Resistance Army from the mid-80s to mid-2000. The conflict caused colossal loss ofproperty and life, destruction of people's livelihoods, and immense social disorder. Thissituation called for a pragmatic approach to restoring socio-economic order to enablecommunity development. At its inception in 2002, Gulu University took cognisance of the diresocio-economic conditions of post-conflict communities in Northern Uganda and deliberatelymodelled itself as an engaged higher education institution. This orientation was “cemented”by strategically directing the university's motto, “For Community Transformation”, toexplicitly reflect an outward look toward community needs.In order to live up to its motto, the university deliberately adopted two strategic pillars toconstitute its transformation pathway. First, the university embraced community engagementinstead of the ‘ivory tower” approach in delivering its mandates. In the context of GuluUniversity, “community” refers to all stakeholders outside the university that contribute todevelopment. In this formative stage of the university’s development, it was envisioned thatcatalysing the development of an enterprising society would be essential for employmentcreation and poverty reduction. Thus, the university adopted a practical enterprisedevelopment strategy to train students and non-university community members for its secondpillar.Gulu University transformation journey. Keeping hindsight on the challenges ofthe post-conflict environment of its location, Gulu University strategically selected academicprogrammes in disciplines that touch directly on the socio-economic fabric of the society. Thedisciplines include agriculture and environment, business and development, education,medicine, applied sciences, law, and peace and conflict management. In order to enhance therelevance of the institution to society, Gulu University integrated community engagement inthe delivery of student training and the conduct of research. This orientation has beenconcretised by institutionalising community engagement at the policy level and establishingContact Us: Page 2 of 5Website: Join the Conversation #AfricaHEWeek2021

RUFORUM Triennial Thought Pieces: ISSUE 23functional relationships with outside stakeholders. A few examples will help illustrate theoutcomes of our community engagement approach to higher education.Through curriculum design, guided by the “Student-Centred-Outreach” engagement model,agricultural students’ training occurs directly in the community. It enables them to learn theintricacies of agriculture from a practical field perspective while at the same time sharing newknowledge and practices with farmers. A tracer study has shown that employers and farmershighly prefer the graduates from Gulu University because they have a strong will to work inrural areas and exhibit a strong sense of social responsibility. This engagement approach hasbeen diffused to other academic units of the university. For instance, in the domain of medicaleducation, in addition to the classical hospital-based practice, students are routinely involvedin supervised community clerkships. This approach has resulted in “all-around” doctors dueto exposure in dealing with medical conditions both under rudimentary rural set-ups and inclassical modern hospital settings. Whereas classically trained doctors prefer to work in urbancentres, feedback from the community indicates that our doctors have taken up theresponsibility of providing medical services in economically disadvantaged locations.On the other hand, it is essential to highlight that peace and tranquillity are essential forsustained development and prosperity. Therefore, with backstopping from academic staff,students from our Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies have been instrumental in buildingand promoting peace in the community and have contributed significantly to creating aculture of harmonious co-existence among and between local and refugee communities. Aspart of its strategic development, the university has moved to streamline peace-building acrossall academic disciplines to produce tranquillity-minded and peace-loving future leaders.Prioritising community engagement has enabled Gulu University to link with other actors tocommercialise innovations. For instance, scientists from Biosystems Engineering Departmentworked with a local entrepreneur to develop valuable products from plastic wastes. Thiscollaboration has led to a plastic recycling company helping clean Gulu City of plastic waste.Pioneered by our Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Gulu University moved away fromthe classical theoretical approach of teaching about entrepreneurship to building capacity forentrepreneurship by adopting practical enterprise development training. As part of thecurriculum requirement and guided by the innovative “Agribusiness Innovation Model”, thefaculty implements a revolving fund for a supervised students’ enterprise scheme thatContact Us: Page 3 of 5Website: Join the Conversation #AfricaHEWeek2021

RUFORUM Triennial Thought Pieces: ISSUE 23practically builds the business and entrepreneurship acumen of the students. In practice,students in groups develop business ideas that they translate into business plans. Withseasoned business leaders and financial institutions providing mentorship, the business plansare vetted, refined and funded. Students run the businesses and later pay back the advancedfunds with modest interest to cater to the enterprise scheme's continuity. In order to fulfil ourinstitutional community-connectedness philosophy, this mode of entrepreneurship capacitybuilding has been extended to TVET (Technical, Vocational Education and Training)institutions, community women groups, out of school youths, and refugees in northernUganda.Efforts invested in entrepreneurship capacity building yield interesting outcomes and can beillustrated with a few examples. In terms of graduate competency, a group of students whoexperimented with wine business registered a wine production business in Gulu City and arecurrently employing 12 youths. At the community level, an out-of-school youth group thatexperimented with seed production has registered a profitable seed trading cooperative ofover 30 members in the Amuru district in northern Uganda. A group of South Sudaneserefugees in the West Nile Sub-region were trained on the technology for producing weaningfood from local food resources. Following capacity building in enterprise development, thegroup established a weaning food business exploiting the market provided by hostcommunities and refugees while exporting the surplus to South Sudan. Building on theseoutcomes, the university has moved to streamline practical enterprise capacity building acrossall faculties. Therefore, a business incubation hub has been established to scale our businessdevelopment efforts.Due credit goes to the TAGDEV programme and the Mastercard Foundation. TAGDEV hasprovided the impetus for Gulu University to expose students from across the African continentto this transformative education.About the AuthorProf George Ladaah Openjuru is a Professor of education and Vice-Chancellor of GuluUniversity. He is the immediate former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Gulu University from 2015to 2018. Currently, he is the Chairperson of the Ugandan Vice Chancellors Forum and theChairperson of the National Curriculum Development Center, and a Member of the UgandaNational Examinations Board.Contact Us: Page 4 of 5Website: Join the Conversation #AfricaHEWeek2021

RUFORUM Triennial Thought Pieces: ISSUE 23This is our twenty-third issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of the RUFORUMSeventh Africa Higher Education Week and RUFORUM Triennial Conference Digests. Moreinformation about the conference is available at the Conversation on Social Media using our Official hashtag #AfricaHEWeek2021.Contact Us: Page 5 of 5Website: Join the Conversation #AfricaHEWeek2021

higher education. The cardinal role of higher education in generating knowledge, building human capital and translating knowledge into technological innovations is key to sustainable development and fostering the socio-economic well-being of a sustainable society. The societal benefit from higher education investment is largely realised when human

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