Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
LE CORDEUR, Michael. A preliminary impact study of a university, school and private sector partnership project: hope for disadvantaged students through mentorships. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.3, pp. 397-414. ISSN 0041-4751.
Successful access to higher education for black students in particular remains a challenge to all tertiary institutions in South Africa. This is the opinion of Prof. Russel Botman, Rector of Stellenbosch University (SU). It is therefore of concern that the SU strategic framework document (SU 2010a) states that the increase in our country's student population projected by the National Commission for Higher Education in 1997 (DBO 1997) has not been attained. This is in contrast with the University's vision for the future, which commits itself to an academic institution of excellence and a respected knowledge partner that contributes towards the development of South Africa and welcomes a diversity of people and ideas. But according to a report by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET)1 little demographic transformation had occurred in respect of who participates in higher education. This is an indication that black students' chances of gaining access to university have in fact decreased. Despite this authorities continue to insist that the percentage of black students in public higher-education institutions be increased. The Ministry's vision is of a transformed, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist system of higher education that will promote equity of access and fair chances of success to all who are seeking to realise their potential through higher education (DBO 1997). The Vice-Rector of SU (Fourie 2009b:16) expands on this: "Besides the moral-ethical considerations, pressure is also being placed on universities by higher education policy to diversify their student and staff compositions and to remove measures that could exclude certain groupings". Stellenbosch University is thus under pressure to align its diversity profile with the transformation goals set by the government, as proclaimed in the White Paper on Higher Education of1997. At the same time the University also experiences pressure from the broader community to answer to the call of alleviating poverty in disadvantaged communities (SU 2010a). However, the standard of teaching in previously disadvantaged schools in the surrounding areas is such that very few students qualify to further their studies at university level. The question therefore is what the University can do to draw students that will rise to these challenges. In his response the University announced a strategy referred to by the current vice-chancellor (Botman 2007) as a "pedagogy of hope". This seems to have been inspired by the neo-Marxist Brazilian educationalist Paulo Friere'spublication Pedagogy of the oppressed (1970). According to this strategy the University will search for and exploit opportunities that will lead to "the farm owner's daughter and the farm worker's son sitting in the same class" (Botman 2007). This gave rise to initiatives such as the Rachel's Angels Schools Partnership Project, which is based on the principles of community interaction.2 The project aims to build the capacity of promising students from disadvantaged communities with the aid of a mentorship programme. This will enable them to bridge the gap between school and university successfully. This article presents an overview of the project as well as a report on its impact. The educational theories which underpin the Rachel's Angels project can be considered to be constructivist in nature, founded upon a philosophy that is student centred and based on a view in which knowledge is not absolute, but is actively constructed by the student. The study aims to establish whether the project has achieved the desired outcomes. If employed successfully, SU will give effect to its transformation agenda, which includes increased participation by a diverse corps of students, willingness to react to social and economic needs and growing cooperation between higher education institutions and all sectors of society. The results of the impact study indicate that, despite growing pains, the project has already made a meaningful contribution in building the capacity of disadvantaged students. The implications for the University are to continuously engage in partnerships with previously disadvantaged schools in order to unlock the potential of disadvantaged students. Not only will it reflect positively on the University's diversity profile, but at the same time give meaning to the University's quest for a "pedagogy of hope".
Keywords : Angels; mentors; protégé-mentee; partnership in education; mentoring; entrepreneurial skills; empowerment; community interaction; transformation.