Academics serving the community

Annette Willemse -- Fri, 09/05/2014 - 16:12

Academics serving the community

The academic world is often perceived as involving the exclusive pursuit of research outputs and NRF ratings; a domain of theory far removed from the day-to-day reality of Joe Public.

Communities and government more and more expect universities and other academic institutions to have a greater positive impact, in addition to educating tomorrow's young professionals and conducting research with exclusively academic bearing. Knowledge and expertise locked up in the academic community of universities must transcend the walls of higher learning to benefit communities. Apart from the direct transfer of knowledge and skills by academics, a growing number of researchers are searching for ways to ensure their work is also beneficial to the communities they engage and investigate through community-based research.

  Prof Elsa Fourie  

Community -based research has its roots in applied research: it is outcome-directed with benefits to communities and integrates theory with practice and the added challenge of enhancing active citizenship. Through reflection and community-based research, viewed and practiced as a scholarly activity, the context for a dialogue between theory and practice is provided. 

Within the framework of a scholarship of engagement, the traditional roles of teacher and learner become blurred and what emerges is a learning community - including community members, students and academic staff. Scholarship rooted in the community is characterised by the manner in which the researcher ask questions, the manner in which the study is grounded in literature, the higher standards held in employing the very same tools that practitioners may use, and honouring participants' voices while maintaining conventional academic requirements. 

Prof Elsa Fourie, Director of the School of Education Sciences, and other likeminded academics are striving to encourage the growing trend among researchers and academics who strives to have their work benefit the communities they engage with. Earlier this year the School of Education Sciences presented their second community engagement symposium. The purpose of the sumposium was to provide a platform for academics to present research papers on their community engagement work and research. 

The symposium was well attended by academics from various universities, including the NWU's three campuses, Unisa, Uniersity of KwaZulu Natal, University of Limpopo, Vaal University of Technology, University of Botswana, University of Venda, University of the Free State, Fore Hare Institute of Technology, and Stellenbosch University.  As the symposium's focus was on community engagement, academics presented papers on various projects emanating from various fields of study. Some of the projects focused on early childhood development; rural household food security; student RAG community projects; leardership through community engagement; keeping compromised families together; orphans and vulnerable childrend; communities of practice; and many more. 

All attendees shared information and many new partnerships were suggested. Community-based research across different campuses was also identified as a priority. The symposium will again be hosted in March 2015.