UNIZULU Plays Part in Assisting Postgraduate Students on Their Academic Journey

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UNIZULU Plays Part in Assisting Postgraduate Students on Their Academic Journey

UNIZULU Plays Part in Assisting Postgraduate Students on Their Academic Journey

Postgraduate students at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) recently attended a special imbizo at Umfolozi Hotel Casino Convention Resort in Empangeni, where they were empowered with relevant information aimed at assisting them to walk their postgraduate journey with little to no hindrances.

The imbizo was organised by the Research and Innovation Office considering the concerns raised by postgraduate students through the Postgraduate Student Association (POSGA) and training outcomes. These concerns include supervision, publishing, mental wellness, funding, and innovation.

According to Siyanda Manqele, the manager of research ethics and postgraduate studies, the imbizo was one of the Research and Innovation Office’s strategic means of capacitating postgraduate students to complete their studies and improving the postgraduate student environment. The Imbizo was a hybrid approach where over 250 students attended in person and 50 virtually on Zoom.

Adding to the reasons behind hosting this event, Professor Nokuthula Kunene, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation said: “Most higher education institutions, nationally and to some extent, internationally, are faced with a poor postgraduate throughput rate, meaning that it takes too long for a postgraduate student to complete a master’s or doctoral degree. Research studies were conducted to establish the main causes of the low throughput rate of the South African postgraduate student and many reports show that lack of funding, lack of work commitment, supervisor relationship, and other issues including personal circumstances are some of the sources of low throughput rate. The recommendation was that a lot of interventions need to be put in place to support the postgraduate students on some of the issues.”

According to Prof Kunene, the low completion rate is cause for worry as it impacts many areas, including an institution’s financial liability and its ability to enrol more students and meet targets because of the space occupied by old students. Above this, it also results in financial waste incurred by the student and also has an effect on their self-esteem.

Several internal and external role players were invited on the day to address the postgraduates, enlightening them on the various services they offer in ensuring their overall postgraduate experience is enriching and enjoyable. Among the internal service providers were the UNIZULU Library, Teaching and Learning Centre, and International Linkages and Wellness Centre. External funders were uMhlathuze Water, the Department of Higher Education and Training, International Scholarship, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the National Research Foundation.

Professor Allucia Shokane, Deputy Dean: Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, was the first to take the podium. She unpacked the fundamental role played by deputy deans for research and innovation in all the faculties, emphasising that their main objective is to ensure that postgraduates are adequately supported to undertake research that is of the highest quality.

Following this was an in-depth presentation on supervision by Professor Johann Mouton from Stellenbosch University. The professor clearly established the parts that students and supervisors play in a student/supervisor contract, clarifying that a supervisor is responsible for quality assurance,  administering logistical services, guiding a student through the literature review process, and playing the role of a counsellor or pastor. In turn, a student is expected to adhere to the research contract and should initiate communication between them and the supervisor. Key to a successful and healthy student/supervisor relationship, Prof Mouton reckoned, is maintaining dignity, respect, and courtesy, eliminating harassment or abuse, having optimal accessibility, and respecting privacy.

Another crucial presentation was that of Bishop Monument Makhanya, whose focus was on mental health. He highlighted the essence of a supportive supervisor and family because these two structures come in handy when the pressure mounts. He also encouraged students not to shy away from asking for help because they may not know it all. Lastly, he cautioned against procrastination and urged the students to exercise regularly, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep to stimulate their creative juices.

In true imbizo style, students were also afforded the opportunity to ask the presenters questions, sessions which resulted in hearty discussions. Asked about their impression of the imbizo, some of the responses from students included “educational”, “extraordinary”, and “memorable”.

– Naledi Hlefane

Picture: James Thwala

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