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The University of Venda delegation of seven (7) academics participated at a Community Engagement Workshop hosted by the University of Limpopo, Rural Development and Innovation Hub (RDIH). The workshop was hosted in collaboration with South African Higher Education Community Engagement Forum (SAHECEF) at Bolivia Lodge, Polokwane from 4-5 April 2019. This workshop was titled ‘Community Engagement (CE) as scholarship-an integrated academic core activity in Higher Education’. 

UNIVEN delegates posing for a group photo 

Focus of the workshop 

The objectives of this workshop were to understand the scholarship of community engagement; to understand how to turn engagement project into research projects and to engage society respectfully. 

Prof Tapia – Entrance points to community engagement scholarship 

The main guest speaker Prof Nieves Tapia of the Latin American Centre for Service-Learning (CLAYSS, International) shared with participants the entrance points to community engagement scholarships. She indicated that entrance points to CE Scholarship can be in different forms namely, research, student learning through work integrated learning and service such as outreach activities, volunteerism. Participants were made aware that they can translate whatever they are doing into scholarship and that integration of CE into teaching and learning is doable. Participants were encouraged to be patient since it is a process. 

Other presenters included Mrs Beatrix (Bibi) Bouwman, a Director of Sustainability and community impact at North West University Institutional Office and Chairperson of SAHECEF. 

Prof Tapia – Community engagement as an innovative tool 

In her presentation Prof Tapia described community engagement as a tool that brings innovation to teaching and learning and research by linking theory and practice. She emphasized the need for academics to change the old ways of teaching and researching by integrating community engagement. Academics were encouraged to turn service-learning projects and outreach activities into scholarship. Academics were made to understand that through integrated community engagement they can identify new ways of doing things, become creative and solve multiple problems at the same time. 

Prof Tapia talked about transforming institutions into engagement institutions. She stressed the importance to devising policies that transform institutions into engaged institutions and considering the responsibility to guide, orientate and facilitate the process to make it easier for academics and students to develop community engagement projects as scholarship. She also emphasised the importance of revising how faculties are evaluated. She pointed out that a university with top down approach to the engagement cannot have an engaged faculty or engaged students and therefore everything remains in the paper. She encouraged institutions to evolve with time in order to address emerging challenges of the 21st century. She challenged institutions to look to the future in order to be relevant. Institutions were encouraged to learn within the community and come with new answers, new questions and new challenges. She advised institutions to create opportunities for students to learn in the field not to depend on theories only. She made participants be aware that they are not doing justice to the students if they are not preparing the students to face real life. 

Ms Bibi Bauman during her presentation 

She gave a historical perspective of community engagement in institutions of higher learning and how DST on behalf of government steered the conversations on campuses through sponsoring conferences starting with the Bantry bay conference of 2006. 

Presentation of groups exercise 

Dr Kholofelo Mothibi, HoD of Criminal Justice, School of Law presenting her community engagement project 

Each group shared a community engagement project, the involvement of communities, students and colleagues in the University if any. Such presentations enabled participants to share their experiences, challenges and learn from each other. Prof Tapia gave advise to each group on what could be done better. In her conclusion, Prof Tapia passionately encouraged academics by saying that: “one of the great things about community engagement is that it allows people to do different things at the same time.” She believes that community engagement can change the life of the community at the same time changing the way academics educate. 

Issued by: 

Department of Communications & Marketing 

University of Venda 

Tel: (015) 962 8525 

Date: 09 June 2019