Community Engagement at UKZN Examined during Webinar
Community Engagement at UKZN: Current Practices, Future Directions was the title of a webinar hosted by the University’s Corporate Relations Division.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, said the University needed a normative mandate to ‘bring purpose and presence, and not just ideas and intent, to the communities it serves.’
Poku said it was imperative to conceptualise UKZN purposefully in order to build capacity in the community. ‘We need to purposefully put strategies and processes in place that seek to better the communities immediately around our physical space.’
‘How, for example, are informal settlements around the University being supported by the University in terms of better understanding, better service provision and better health provision outcomes?’
Poku also spoke about research stressing that it needed to be conducted with emphasis on our localities. ‘We probably know less about our localities than we do about the continent or indeed the global space at large,’ he said.
He added that the University needed to support young people strategically and holistically. ‘Developing intellectually stimulated minds must be borne by the University.’
Poku said the COVID-19 pandemic had illustrated the importance of building societal relationships around communities. ‘I’m appealing to you, at this stage, to embolden you to dream big and to enable the Institution through your endeavours, to establish a coherent set of strategies that we can begin to implement.’
Presenters at the webinar included the Head of the Department of Family Medicine, Professor Bernhard Gaede; Andrew Mellon Fellow at the Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity, Dr Ingrid Bamberg; SARChI Chair in Sustainable Rural Development, Professor Betty Mubangizi, and audiologist and speech therapist, Professor Mershen Pillay.
Gaede and Bamberg co-presented on Understanding and Conceptualising Community and Community Engagement: Challenges and Perspectives, with Gaede paving the way for the debate by highlighting the Homestay Project for Medical students where students have an opportunity to live in the community. He emphasised the importance of ‘locating community engagement projects in the community.’
Bamberg explored the notion of community, underscoring the importance of social cohesion and care as a value or practice. ‘Assuming we are a community doesn’t really help to consolidate cohesion at university which enables us to engage outside and to collaborate more effectively and smoothly,’ she said.
Mubangizi spoke on initiatives at the University including the Law Clinic, which provides specialised legal services to indigent clients and marginalised communities. She called for a dedicated portfolio on community engagement and looked at community engagement for academic promotion.
Pillay examined university-community engagement as a portal for change in research, teaching and learning. He said conflict should be viewed not as a problem but as being necessary for transformation and suggested ‘stepping out of this pandemic’ and using it as a ‘transformative moment.’
Pillay highlighted community engagement initiatives at the Warwick Triangle Market which included clinical services such as hearing screening and diagnosis by audiologists. He said they had started conversations with traders in the market place which had resulted in a “humanisation of the sound mapping process”.
The debate was facilitated by Pro-Vice-Chancellor: Social Cohesion Professor Relebohile Moletsane who succinctly captured the presentations saying: ‘Community engagement needs to be reciprocal, it needs to be scholarly and thirdly, it needs to be involved in generating knowledge with, rather than on, the community.’
Words: Raylene Captain Hasthibeer