In coming weeks, public universities and private institutions across South Africa will host a series of Open Days – events meant to showcase their offering to prospective students from the Matric Class of 2019. An education expert says it is essential that learners intending to study next year attend as many Open Days as possible to ensure they make an informed study choice, but more than that, they need to go with a strategy in hand to ensure they look beneath the surface to understand what their likely experience may be at a particular institution or campus.
"This is a very exciting time for Matrics, who for the first time will be able to get some real-life insights about life on campus and what their future might be like in coming years after school," says Wonga Ntshinga, Senior Head of Programme: Faculty of ICT at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest and most accredited private higher education institution.
"So we advise Grade 12s to determine without delay when various institutions will be hosting Open Days – an online search will suffice - and then make the effort to attend as many as possible."
Ntshinga says there are many benefits to attending an open day, including 1) to get greater clarity on an institution's offering 2) to visit different faculties at an institution 3) to speak to representatives of the institution who will be able to help you determine which qualification is a good fit if you are still uncertain 4) to get a feeling of life on a specific campus and 5) to weigh up the offering – academic and otherwise – of different institutions.
But he says there is one thing that prospective students must remember when attending Open Days, and that is to keep a level head and not get too starry-eyed by the fanfare of the day.
"Open Days are the perfect opportunity to get first-hand experience of a campus and its students, staff and academics. But the first rule of Open Day is to remember that Open Day might not be representative of every other day. Universities put their best foot forward to impress and attract future students, but you have to be savvy and ask the right questions, as well as make the observations that will help you with this major decision."
Ntshinga says prospective students should spend enough time on a campus to get a good look around, and listen to their gut feel while doing so.
"Look at the campus grounds, visit the library and the IT lab, note the condition of sports facilities, lecture rooms and even the toilets. If, for instance, an institution's restrooms are questionable on an Open Day, chances are that they will be the same or worse during the rest of the year.
"If lecture rooms and the general environment look tired, dilapidated and unkept on this day, it is unlikely they will look better any other day of the year."
If you get a good feeling about what you observe on campus, the Open Day then presents an opportunity to ask the important questions of university representatives, to gauge whether your degree will help you make a smooth transition to the workplace post-graduation, Ntshinga says.
To make that determination, learners should ask the following:
"Doing your groundwork in the coming month, by identifying and attending Open Days at institutions you've been considering, as well as others you may not yet have considered but which may well turn out to be the right fit, will make a huge contribution to your ability to evaluate your options properly," Ntshinga says.
"Additionally, you may be exposed to opportunities and qualifications you have not considered before, and which may resonate with you. Open Days are essential to making the best choice for your aspirations and provide insights that desktop research rarely does, so make the best of this limited window of opportunity."
DID YOU KNOW?
The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) is a division of the JSE-listed ADvTECH Group, Africa's largest private education provider. The IIE is the largest, most accredited registered private higher education institute in South Africa, and the only one accredited by The British Accreditation Council (BAC), the independent quality assurance authority that accredits private institutions in the UK. By law, private higher education institutions in South Africa may not call themselves Private Universities, although registered private institutions are subject to the same regulations, accreditation requirements and oversight as Public Universities.
Many students will, for the first time, encounter what is called an open book assessment once they start writing tests and exams at their public university or private higher education institution. And while the open book method is a great tool for measuring depth of understanding, too many students initially – and mistakenly - think that taking a book into the testing centre means little to no preparation is required. This could not be further from the truth, an education expert warns.
"Open book assessments are more engaging to the students, because they need to use a combination of memory, creativity and logical thinking. They also result in less pre-assessment anxiety for the students knowing they don't need to recall facts. This is especially advantageous to students who have difficulty in this area," says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education institution.
Payne says that it is however a major misconception that an open book assessment means there is no need to study or prepare before the exam.
"This is untrue, because students need to really engage with the material, understand how the concepts and theory can be applied and they should, in particular, practise any numeracy or practical content before they enter the exam room," she says.
Time management is also a factor in open book assessments, adds Payne.
"There is little time for students to page through their textbooks and other resources searching for answers. A good open book assessment will not have the answers in the permitted resources, but rather refer to the methods and related content. The assessment will still need to be engaged with and students required to provide a carefully considered response."
Payne says there is a familiar scenario that plays out for many students who are not used to the open book method of testing.
"Firstly, there may be a misconception that you don't need to study, because you will have access to prescribed textbooks and resources, which is false.
"Secondly, upon sitting down and reading the exam, students may realise that the books won't contain the answers as they may have thought.
"And then finally, the student may realise that the examiner doesn't want recalled facts, but a deeper understanding of the content."
It is therefore incumbent on all good institutions to ensure that new students – many of whom will be unfamiliar with the open book approach – are properly coached before entering the exam room, says Payne.
HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS MUST MODERNISE TESTING METHODS
In addition to ensuring students are empowered to perform optimally when taking open book tests, good institutions need to review and update the methodology of these kinds of tests, with particular attention to developments in the digital space, she says.
"Traditionally, open book assessments allowed students access to printed material authorised by their lecturers," notes Payne.
"That was acceptable when students purchased hard copy textbooks or used articles or publication as references. This is no longer the case. A large proportion of students, both nationally and internationally, no longer purchase hard copy books but rather make use of e-books, online videos, tutorials and web pages for their content and to enhance their learning. Taking this learning style into account, academic assessment methods need to adapt to the digital age."
However too many institutions remain reluctant to change their assessment methods and have discounted "the new way of learning" that the current generation of students use.
"Progressive institutions must make the necessary digital resources available for students to reference in the open book assessment, but still ensure that the assessment requires the students to use these as references and not search for an answer in the permissible resources.
"By providing access to these digital resources, it would be important for the institution to build in restrictions such as that no student will be able to message their peers. These can be restricted (along with locking down browsers) by using smart software solutions," she says.
The open book assessment makes sense when one looks forward to the workplace, where an employee will never be given a task while not being permitted to complete it by accessing the internet.
"The employer expects the employee to have the fundamental knowledge for their chosen career, but expects the employee to be able to use that knowledge to construct a solution – much like an open book assessment," says Payne.
She argues that if citizens and employees of today (and in future) are expected to have access to the internet to perform certain tasks in their daily lives, it doesn't make sense that institutions would be reluctant to test students without this resource and rather use traditional closed book assessments.
"We need to prepare our next generation to be able to adapt to the workplace and provide them the necessary skills to use to be more efficient and effective in their careers.
"Employers would prefer to have employees that can use all the tools available to them to come up with great solutions and not employees who are great at recalling facts. There will always be things we don't know, and this includes specialists in all areas or disciplines. The amount we don't know far exceeds that which we do. And the most valuable skill we can provide our youth is being able to sort and filter relevant information and apply it in a meaningful way."
The IIE has a history in education and training since 1909, and its brands - Rosebank College, Varsity College, The Business School at Varsity College and Vega - are widely recognised and respected for producing workplace-ready graduates, many of whom become industry-leaders in their chosen fields. The IIE offers a wide range of qualifications, from post-graduate degrees to short courses, on 20 registered higher education campuses across South Africa.
Alex Sudheim is a Senior Copywriting Lecturer at The Independent Institute of Education's Vega School in Cape Town, and a practising professional copywriter. Careers24 chatted to Alex to find out more about his career and share some of his advice for others looking to get into this line of work both in terms of copywriting and lecturing.
After graduating with an English, Politics and Economics degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Alex started writing stories about the more offbeat aspects of his home city’s culture and people. A series of these vignettes was published in the Mail & Guardian.
“Soon I was the KZN Arts & Culture correspondent for the M&G. For four years I wrote about art, theatre, dance, music and cinema in KZN and won the Thomas Pringle Award from the South African English Institute for my efforts,” he says.
He was then head-hunted by an executive from the prestigious international ad agency Ogilvy, and offered a job as a copywriter. At the time, he says, he didn’t even know what a copywriter was.
“My school guidance counsellors appeared oblivious to the existence of ‘copywriting’ as a viable and lucrative vocation for students who loved words, language, arguing, and articulating ideas," he says.
“But soon I was crafting concept-driven narrative for brands such as Old Mutual, Unilever, Mondi, Wonderbra, East Coast Radio and more in mediums from print to billboard to online to interactive. It was exciting, fun and it paid well. How come the guidance counselling profession hadn’t heard of this?”
After making the transition from copywriter to copywriting lecturer seven years ago, he hasn’t looked back.
“I continue to be inspired and fulfilled by guiding hungry young minds toward richly rewarding academic and professional careers. In my tenure as Senior Copywriting Lecturer thus far I have navigated my students to 11 Loeries, including the coveted Campaign Gold in 2017, and 6 Pendorings.”
Alex shared what his day to day looks like. To make the teaching and learning experience at Vega a more dynamic one, the creative degrees (Copywriting, Graphic Design, Multimedia Design) are broken into theory classes; craft classes; individual feedback sessions and in-studio work.
“Daily activities predominantly involve lecturing, consulting and critiquing. Aside from the classes themselves, much time is spent on curriculum development – course content is in constant transformation in order to remain aligned with tumultuous changes in industry.”
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Business consultant, serial entrepreneur, and author Brent Spilkin, in partnership with Digitlab Academy, has turned his book What the Freelance (WTF) into a 12-week course at Vega School, a brand of The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE). The book is set to launch in March.
"There is a lot of information packed into those 313 pages, and that’s why I’ve turned it into the book you can’t buy," says Spilkin. Anyone who is freelancing in the digital or creative space, contemplating freelancing, or looking to improve their efficiency in managing freelancers, can now access information in bite-size, digestible and implementable pieces."We know the gig economy is growing," adds Spilkin. "Now is the time to upskill yourself and learn the tools to make your freelance career lucrative and sustainable. It’s not just about freedom and flexibility, but about being profitable and successful."The 12-week short course is available at Vega campuses in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban. Sessions will take place on Thursday evenings from 17:30 to 20:30 and will be facilitated by experienced Vega Navigators. The course will be repeated in July and September. The total cost is R14 200.00 and payment terms are available. It’s also the only way individuals can get the book."We are proud to be able to deliver the WTF short course in partnership with Spilly, which we believe aligns perfectly with Vega’s aim of nurturing well-rounded, conceptually and strategically minded future leaders of industry, capable of finding solutions to the world’s challenges," says Shevon Lurie, MD of Vega.For more information, visit www.whatthefreelance.com or www.vegaschool.com.
As thousands of First Year students head off to varsity in coming weeks, education experts say they should embrace the excitement and opportunity, but also ensure they start off on the right track to ensure they make a success of their studies right from the get-go.
"The demands of school and the demands of higher education are worlds apart, and new students need to understand what new challenges will come their way, and how to handle these," says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
"Most importantly, and especially for those students who excelled at school with not too much effort, they need to understand that 'winging it' is no longer an option," she says.
"Some people managed to attain good marks at school with very little work, but this will not be possible at university. There is a big jump up from high school in the expectations on students in terms of the volume and complexity of the work, and there is simply no substitute for long hours spent in the library."
Tshidi Mathibe, Head of Programme: IIE Faculty of Commerce, says going to university is an opportunity for amazing growth and there will be no other time in life when a person has such freedom to discover who they are and where they want to go in life.
"However your higher education experience is unlikely to be like anything that you have seen on television and in films. Yet while this new world can be intimidating, there are a few things you can almost certainly expect, and being prepared to respond to these in an informed and mature manner will dramatically increase your chances of success."
Mathibe says to make the most of the opportunity, First Years should take note of the following:
1. It is important to attend Orientation Week
Orientation Week, or O-Week, is typically held a week before classes start. It is not compulsory to attend O-Week, but it is a great chance to meet new people, obtain information about your campus and all the activities offered, and just have some fun.
2. Every new student is just as anxious as you are to make friendsYou can feel quite anxious when you are new to a campus and don't know anyone. It may also seem like everybody else already has friends. This is probably not the case, and many students are in a similar boat."You will meet lots of people who may be very different from you," says Mathibe. "There will be people from different cultures, economic backgrounds and academic levels. This is an opportunity for you to have new experiences, and broaden your frame of reference."
3. Make a friend in every classIt is a very good idea to make a friend in each class that you have. This will allow you to discuss the course material and have someone to take notes for you if you have to miss a class (but don't make a habit of it).
4. Understand the difference between lectures and tutorialsLectures are generally large classes, often with hundreds of people in large venues, particularly if you are attending a public university. "In lectures, you may feel like you are just a lonely student in a vast sea of bodies. Tutorials however are generally smaller classes, and students often feel less intimidated in tutorials which means they are a good opportunity to ask questions and make new friends. Make an effort to attend every lecture and tutorial, as lecturers and tutors are there to explain difficult concepts and to assist you with your learning," says Mooney.
5. You may feel anonymous
At school, your teacher knew your name - and probably a lot more - about you. At a university with large classes it will not be possible for the lecturer to learn all the names of hundreds of students, or to have insight into their unique circumstances. In private higher education institutions, the situation may be different because of smaller class sizes. Whatever the case may be, ensure you get to know your student number by heart, as this is the way you will be identified.
"The most important thing to remember as you enter higher education, is that there will be no spoon-feeding and that you are in charge of your own learning," says Mooney.
"If you miss a lecture, or do not submit an assignment, no-one will care. Teachers at school would nag you about your homework, but at university you need to know when assignments are due, and when and where tests are being written. So right from the start, commit to taking responsibility for yourself, your learning and success."
Finally, do not be afraid to ask for help, Mathibe says.
"A good higher education institution will always have support structures in place, such as student guidance and career centres. Make use of these support structures, as they will have trained and experienced counsellors to guide you and help you make a success of your studies."
As First Years prepare to head off to higher education for the first time, many are having second thoughts about their chosen course or institution. While feelings of uncertainty are healthy and normal, an education expert also warns parents and prospective students to rather look at all their options now and change course right away if necessary, instead of taking a wait-and-see approach.
"SA's first year dropout rate is significant, but at an individual level, this costly outcome could in many instances have been avoided if prospective students took more time to ensure they investigated all offerings in terms of institutions and qualifications," says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
She says that it is often the case that learners applied for the same qualifications or at the same institutions as their friends, opted for a standard 3-year degree without knowing much about what it entails, or decided on their course because of pressure and expectations from others.
"There is so much research evidence that success in first year requires that students are doing something that has meaning to them and not just what they have always been expected to do. So if there is any chance that there is a better fit available, even at this late stage, we encourage students and their families to make the move now. This applies equally to high performing students who are often the ones who have the most choices and yet still find themselves doing something they do not actually want to do or being somewhere that does not match their personal needs."
The pressure – particularly for strong students – to pursue a traditional degree at a traditional institution is very strong. Now that they have their excellent results in their hands, those with an interest in a career focused professional qualification such as accounting, law or teaching, or whose interests lie in a new and exciting career path such as brand management, digital marketing, network engineering, game design and development, and application and cloud development, should take this last opportunity to confirm that they are making the right choices for themselves. This means looking beyond the public system too.
"Private higher education is increasingly becoming the study route of choice, in line with international trends, for students who want quality workplace-oriented and recognised qualifications, niche degrees, smaller class sizes and modern campuses."
Coughlan points out that because South Africa has a single quality assurance system and one National Qualifications Framework, any institution offering a registered and accredited qualification – whether public or private – is offering a qualification of equal standing, which means that prospective students may have many more, and more exciting, options than they may have realised.
And while there is no state subsidy for private institutions, which means that the cost of private higher education is still sometimes higher than at public universities, this cost is often offset in the long run because of improved results.
"Private institutions are often far more affordable from a broader perspective than members of the public seem to realise. And because these campuses are mostly relatively small with class sizes rarely exceeding 100 students, individual focus and therefore higher success rates are the norm.
"As a result, proportionally more students graduate, making the overall educational experience a real value for money opportunity."
Coughlan says choices about tertiary education must be based on a thorough assessment of the fit between personal aspiration, circumstances and the institutional choices available. And if a prospective student is already having second thoughts, the time re-assess is now, while there is still time.
This advice also holds true for those Matrics who may have been pleasantly surprised with their results, achieving a Bachelor's pass when they didn't expect it, or achieving top scores when they expected more modest ones.
"If you haven't yet made study plans, and now you did better than you thought you would, or you were too late and now do not have a place, it makes sense to use the month that you have now to be sure about what you are doing.
"Ultimately, Matrics should honestly determine whether they are excited about the degree they are soon to embark on, and that they are signed up with a higher education institution that will give them what they need. If the answers are not resoundingly yes and yes, the following weeks are the opportune time to investigate all options and change direction before it is too late."
Thousands of learners from the Matric Class of 2017 who did not do as well as required - and their parents - are feeling anxious and uncertain about the future, but an education expert says it is important to know that there are a number of options that can get learners back on track.
"The most important thing for both parents and learners having sleepless nights over their results, is to not panic," says Fathima Razack, Head of Programme: Faculty of Commerce at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
"While it might feel like the end of the world at the moment, clear heads and a pragmatic approach are required to make the right decisions for the future," she says.
It is particularly important for adults to manage their response, as their emotional state could impact on the resilience of learners in the wake of the release of results.
"Although parents and guardians may feel deeply disappointed, they should know that their first words and reactions may leave a lasting impact.
"They should take stock and consider their unified position so that the energy can be focused on the learner and their next steps," says Razack.
The options open to learners who failed, but who are determined to still earn their National Senior Certificate, include:
Those learners who passed, but didn't achieve the marks required for entrance into degree study, have the following options:
"It is also important to remember that while your marks may not have been good enough to get access to your first choice of course or institution, that doesn't mean you have no other study options left. Quite the opposite in fact, so parents and prospective students should ensure that they have really investigated the offerings at both public universities and private higher education institutions.
"Each university and private higher education provider set their own minimum criteria, and these requirements vary between institutions. An institution where the demand outweighs the availability of space may set this bar quite high, which means they are likely to accept only students who are very strong academically. Other institutions may have made provision for students who require more support, and will therefore have more accommodating admission requirements.
"That means it may not be necessary to repeat Grade 12 or rewrite a subject, as there could be alternatives available in your chosen field of study," says Razack.
The most important thing to remember is that below par matric results don't have to mean giving up on one's dreams and aspirations, she says.
"If parents and learners can handle this situation maturely, and strategise their next steps instead of getting stuck in a catastrophising mindset, disappointing performance could be just the catalyst needed to propel a learner in a new and better direction, with more determination and resolve than before."
With years of hard work and the exhilaration of graduation behind them, the real effort now starts for new graduates, to get their foot in the door of the world of work. With SA's high unemployment rate and many candidates competing for limited opportunities, the job search can be a daunting task.
But two education experts say that with the right approach, a search can result in success sooner rather than later.
"There are a number of things you need to consider when launching your job search to ensure that you stand a better chance," says Sifiso Mnisi, Head of Programme: Faculty of Humanities at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
Consideration 1: Change your mindset and get positive
"Looking for a job is a fulltime job on its own," says Mnisi.
"Therefore, to start on a positive note, tell yourself that you already have a job. This step requires you to position yourself socially, chronologically, and professionally so that you can start thinking like an employed person."
Mnisi advises graduates to be patient but consistent.
"Create a schedule with a set number of hours a day to search for your dream position, sending out applications and making enquiries about job opportunities."
Because the job search – and the inevitable rejections - can be emotionally and psychologically exhausting, it is important that graduates not let it consume them.
"Take nothing at a personal level, and try to enjoy the process, which is also an important opportunity to learn and grow."
Consideration 2: Update your CV and tailor it to each position
Your first point of departure is your curriculum vitae (CV) and the cover letter, says Fathima Razack, The IIE's Head of Programme: Faculty of Commerce.
"These are the first documents that potential employers will see and should show who you are why you are suitable for their vacancy. Employers need to know that you are a good fit for their company, so your focus should be on convincing them that you are the best candidate for the job."
Razack says CVs must be tailored to the requirements of each position. Additionally, CVs should be relevant to the field of work. A CV for a creative or advertising position will look different to a more traditional CV in the field of finance, for instance.
"At the end of the day it is not just about the employer finding you, but also about you finding the employer and position that are right for you.
"Carefully read the job specifications, for example the requirements in terms of qualifications, experience and skills. Make sure to match it to the requirements of the job that you are applying for. When doing that, also be honest with yourself about whether you would enjoy doing that job."
Consideration 3: Create a strong online presence and professional personal brand
A strong online presence is crucial and graduates should actively manage theirs, says Mnisi.
"Create Google alerts for specific vacancies and register your CV with reputable recruitment agencies and jobs portals such PNet and Bizcommunity," he says.
"These days, employers often scour social media in search of suitable candidates. A good LinkedIn profile is very important here as it allows you to be seen by professionals and as a professional. Follow companies and professionals on social media to see what is happening in their world, and to stay abreast of developments in your industry."
Consideration 4: Do your homework
Razack says the most important part of the job hunt starts when a company signals interest.
She says that prior to an interview, graduates should do their research on the company, the position, and the industry in general, to thoroughly understand:
Consideration 5: Don't stand still
Mnisi says it is imperative that graduates keep learning, keep abreast of developments in their industry, and make a real effort to network and make contacts.
"Make yourself a promise and commit to an attitude of lifelong learning," he advises.
"Constantly update your skills, do a short course to widen your knowledge and qualifications base, work with a mentor or volunteer. All these things grow you as a person and increase your competitiveness in the job market," he says.
Additionally, graduates should approach the career centres of their higher education institutions.
"The best institutions have fantastic graduate employability programmes, and could help you with preparing for interviews, identifying vacancies, or reviewing your CV if it doesn't seem to be making the cut."
Razack adds that for each application, graduates must take their time and be thorough.
"Every effort that you put in will help you to either refine your skills or develop your resilience or focus. Remember that as much as you are looking for them, they are looking for you too!
There has been a lot of talk lately about the usefulness (or not) of the university degree, with some commentators even venturing the opinion that degrees are, in fact, dead. But while there is merit in some of the arguments, they only hold true for those qualifications that have failed to respond to changing demands in the world and the workplace, an education expert says.
"Anything – whether it be a degree, communication technology or even the fat and sugar content of food – that has failed to evolve in response to changed demand is redundant, but degrees are no more or less redundant as a category than is food or communication technology," says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education provider.
DEATH OF THE TRADITIONAL DEGREE – WORKPLACE DEMANDS NOT BEING MET
Coughlan agrees that some traditional degrees are past their sell-by date, and that prospective students should carefully scrutinise what they are signing up for.
"Many of the reasons cited in arguing that degrees are dead speak to the characteristics of degrees rendered useless by a lack of vision and courage," she says, adding that these degrees, which value credentials over competence, unfortunately continue to be widely available and expensive, while offering little financial return because they are not sought after by employers.
"Only a few decades ago, many Universities held themselves apart from 'business' and 'industry' and some even explicitly stated that it is not the job of the University to prepare students for the world of work. Instead, they spoke about the more ethereal and ephemeral qualities graduates acquired, which could then be bestowed on the world of work."
Coughlan says that as this kind of context-bound learning began to receive aggressive critique from the world of work, many institutions started adding "skills" to their degrees, arguing that what was learnt should be applied through case studies or internships and then the graduates would both know and be practically competent.
"However, that approach missed the point entirely that degrees are not about knowledge or skills or even applied knowledge. Degrees are transformative and if they are delivered with integrity and vision they graduate competent people – not skilled potential employees. A competent person is able to become a significant employee with both the skills and attitudes to hit the ground running," she says.
To argue then that many modern degrees are dead speaks to the irrelevance of some surviving approaches rather than to the concept of a degree and its value, notes Coughlan.
"Some degrees, and perhaps even whole universities, have become irrelevant as they have continued to defend a binary distinction between study and work and have created only theoretical or applied bridges between the two - as if they are two spaces that need connection rather than two dimensions of the same thing that require integration.
"As a result, we continue to see graduates without any ability to really integrate their knowledge, who are criticised for their lack of depth."
DEGREES OF THE FUTURE – GRADUATES IN HIGH DEMAND
Part of the solution is to go back to the basics of who a graduate should be as opposed to what they know, says Coughlan.
"If one takes the degree level descriptors from the National Qualifications Framework and strip out some of the technocratic language, there is no doubt that a degree graduate who has achieved these described competencies is exactly what the world of work wants – in small businesses or the state or multinational corporations.
"If a degree can deliver on these expectations its graduates will always be in demand as they will add real value to their environment and the degree itself will not be dead."
Coughlan notes that a South African graduate holding a degree that has met the exit level requirements stipulated in the NQF would be one who has integrated knowledge across several fields, has the ability to analyse a situation that is unfamiliar, and is able to apply the appropriate knowledge to generate a solution that can in turn be assessed for potential consequences.
"A degree graduate is one that can address complex problems by applying evidence-based solutions with theory-driven arguments in an ethical manner. This graduate is self-directed and can be expected to take full accountability for their actions, including their decisions in unfamiliar and variable contexts as they appreciate that problem solving is context and system bound, and nothing occurs in in isolation. A graduate from a degree that has nurtured these competencies is exactly what the economy requires."
If some degrees are not delivering these graduates, the response should not be to declare degrees dead, but rather to seek other ways to develop the required competencies, says Coughlan.
"A graduate should have mastered complex skills and be able to cope with changing realities. The journey to that competency is one that a good degree will provide. Such a degree both explicitly and implicitly integrates theory, problem solving, complex analytical skills and solution oriented action."
Coughlan says it is true that skills can be taught and attitudes nurtured.
"But the reality is that the ability to develop new solutions to previously unknown problems and even recognise problems and opportunities others have not yet seen, is the only sustainable contribution to growth and viability. For this, a degree cannot yet be beaten."
With the first Grade 12 exam papers behind them, but several still to come in the weeks ahead, panic and anxiety over their children's performance are starting to get a hold on parents across the country.
But while it is understandably stressful if things appear not to be going well, parents should be aware that their fears can further impact on learners' ability to perform, and rather take action to ensure that they can still do their best on the papers that lie ahead, an expert says.
"We are seeing a lot of parental anxiety being expressed at the moment, particularly on social media, and want to warn parents about the unintended consequences, including increased pressure, which can negatively impact on exam writers," says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education, SA's largest private higher education institution.
"Anxiety and emotional tension are contagious, and can induce feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, especially in learners who are already concerned that they are not going to live up to the expectations of their schools and their families."
Dr Mooney says understanding the actions that can be taken at this stage of the game, can assist to reduce stress and ensure learners and parents feel empowered to continue climbing what feels like an Everest at the moment.
"The things to remember with the papers that didn't go well are firstly that once you hand in the paper there is nothing more you can do, so you need to let it go. It is pointless to obsess about something that you cannot control, for instance thinking about the points you forgot, the way you could have better answered certain questions, or even the fact that you could have studied harder.
"It is far better to focus on what you can still do now, for instance studying harder for the next paper."
It should also be kept in mind that most subjects have more than one exam, so learners may still have another chance to improve their mark for a specific subject.
Dr Mooney says that parents should guard against playing down disappointment following a bad exam experience.
"It is not helpful to say 'it will be fine… I'm sure you did well', if the learner knows things didn't go as planned. Instead, acknowledge the disappointment and concern, and work with the learner to identify what was learned from the experience, and how his or her approach to future papers can be improved as a result."
The best way for parents and guardians to assist their children now, is to create a positive and enabling environment, Mooney says.
"Help your child by identifying ways in which they can manage stress and anxiety, for instance through breathing techniques, and ensuring they sleep and eat well. Notice when panic starts to set in, and take a few minutes to work through it until the mind is settled again."
Mooney says that if parents manage and regulate their emotions and expectations, they will be in a better position to help young people focus without the distraction of various dreaded scenarios sapping their emotional energy.
"Parents and learners all should also keep in mind that while it goes without saying they would have preferred excellent results and optimal performance, even if the worst-case scenario came to pass, there would still be many options open to them.
"For instance if a learner doesn't achieve the marks required to take up their space at their higher education institution of choice, they could do a rewrite or investigate other options – and there are so many – for which they do qualify. Or those who don't achieve a Bachelor's Degree pass could consider doing a Higher Certificate next year, which will also give access to degree study."
Ultimately, there are still several weeks of papers ahead, and a bad start should not be allowed to overshadow the final exam in its entirety.
"There is still time to turn the ship around, and that is easier done when everyone is calm, collected, and committed to making full use of the opportunities to perform that are still to come."