Johannesburg - Freshly returned from collecting prestigious international accolades, University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng is launching an initiative for students who have not completed their studies.
The UCT Digital Bootcamp was launched on Thursday, with a call to South African and multinational corporations to assist eligible students to get the digital experience they need to either enter the world of work or become digitally-savvy entrepreneurs.
“As part of the pilot addressing youth unemployment, we are inviting 100 students out of around 1 800, whose studies were interrupted between 2015 and 2019, to become part of the programme,” said Prof Phakeng in a virtual interview after the launch.
The sponsored programme is available to students whose studies were interrupted, or UCT graduates who have not been able to find a job since graduating three or more years ago.
Mindful of the country’s unemployment crisis and economic challenges, Phakeng said success would result in at least 60 of the 100 enrolled in the programme, getting jobs.
“That would be great; I'm saying 60% minimum because I know things are tough. Of course, the first prize is that if they get into a job. It will be great because if that happens, it says to the other students, whose studies have been interrupted, that there's hope here. And my hope is that those students come back to UCT saying it was that initiative that changed the course of my career.”
Phakeng said there was an increase in the need for digital skills in professional fields such as law, social services, media communication and other “non-scientific” sectors.
“At UCT, we are encouraging students to consider developing information technology skills while pursuing a degree in their chosen programme of study because we want our graduates to be ready to work within the Fourth Industrial Revolution and influence its impact in South Africa,” she said.
The initiative was launched in partnership with digital education provider Umuzi, which trains top talent for digital roles at leading corporates and other institutions in South Africa. The programme will offer an additional pathway to employment for determined young individuals and unlock their digital potential.
Over the past decade, 80% of students equipped with skills from Umuzi have secured roles in the corporate sector.
“For this reason, UCT is partnering with [them] to offer a different programme of learning to our interrupted studies students, as well as our few unemployed UCT graduates, so that they can increase their likelihood of finding work or creating their own entrepreneurial opportunities,” Phakeng said.
Umuzi chief executive officer and former UCT alumni Andrew Levy said Umuzi has been around since 2009, supporting and helping talented, unemployed young people to get into high-value digital jobs.
“We're trying to say that in the unemployment problem, one of the fastest ways to solve that is to get the people with the highest potential into high-value jobs as quickly as possible so that we can decrease the dependency ratio, we can reduce unemployment, and can increase the tax base.
“So many of our young people say, 'Andrew, the biggest thing for me is I want to be charged tax'. And I'm like, 'Why... do you want to be charged tax?' And they respond, 'Because if I'm charged tax, it means that I'm in the right bracket, it means that I'm earning enough to be charged tax.'
"And this is a tremendous insight for us that young people want to contribute, not only to their futures, but to the future of and livelihoods of South Africans in general.
“I’m personally excited about this programme and thrilled to sit next to such a visionary as the vice-chancellor. Launching this exciting programme, starting as a pilot, will increase the numbers at UCT through corporate partnerships, and hopefully, spread throughout South Africa and potentially even onto the continent,” Levy said.
Levy said 80% of young people that went through Umuzi programmes are in high-value digital jobs and continue to hold those jobs today.
On the job creation imperative, Phakeng said the pilot programme is based on two important premises.
“The first is our belief in the potential of every UCT student to make a positive contribution to the future of South Africa. This includes those students who face the disappointment of having to interrupt their university education, for whatever reason. As we have learned from the pandemic, disruptions can point the way to new solutions and opportunities.”
After a difficult first term in office, characterised by protests such as #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and #PatriarchyMustFall, Phakeng was rewarded by the university council with a second five-year term, starting on April 1.
Chair of council Babalwa Ngonyama said in a statement that the re-appointment of the vice-chancellor was about looking ahead to the future of the university.
“Professor Phakeng has already built strong foundations for recovery. She has recognised that the university’s international reputation and increased donor funding, while important, will not be enough; there needs to be a wider vision for financial sustainability in the face of ever-diminishing public funding.”
To achieve this goal, Ngonyama said, a leader must be able to think differently.
“A good example of Phakeng’s ability to think differently has been the success of the UCT Online High School project. This was launched with close to 4 000 learners in January this year, and is receiving outstanding reviews from learners and their families.
“More than one hundred of our staff members, from cleaners to professors, have enrolled their children in this unique combination of online learning and focused face-to-face support, with fees way below the level of many government schools,” said Ngonyama.
Last month, Phakeng was elected chair of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) and also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa.
The digital journey is in full swing at UCT.
Edwin Naidu writes for tech-start-up Higher Education Media Services.