By | August 3, 2021

On 29 July, Vice‑Chancellor (VC) Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng joined students from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) residences at the monthly Residence Academic Development Committee (RADC) webinar.

The RADC webinars aim to foster success for students living in university housing. The topic for this webinar was developing academic and professional relationships within and beyond university life.

The RADC works to bridge the gap between the various faculties and residences by promoting academic development within the learning and living spaces at UCT. By providing in‑depth personal and academic development insights, the committee aims to support academic success, increase student retention and provide members of the student body with a greater sense of belonging.

Logistics coordinator of the RADC, Tendai Mbanje, pointed out that this month’s webinar was aimed at encouraging students to reflect on their social and professional development in an academic setting.

“Social and professional growth are equally important to us, and it is now generally agreed that a degree is not enough for a successful career,” he said.

“Students have begun opening up about their needs and experiences both within the higher education system and post university. There is a lack of adequate mentorship to develop social and professional skills in academic settings, and we are filling this vacuum.”

The opportunity to explore

Professor Phakeng kicked off the webinar with a quintessentially bold approach to the topic: “When I was asked to talk about academic and professional development, with insights on developing relationships within and beyond university life, I thought, ‘What can I talk about?’

“My first thought for a topic – and it’s what we’re going to speak about tonight – was: Welcome to university. Choose your kind of corruption,” said Phakeng.

Aware that this statement may be perceived as peculiar, the VC went on to provide context.

“Whatever happens at university, you are going to be corrupted, but you decide which kind of corruption to choose. Every one of you will leave this university different to how [you arrived]. Some will leave with degrees. Some will leave with a huge network. Some will leave with a business. Some will leave with a relationship. Everything is on offer,” she said.

Phakeng emphasised that the beauty of the university system is in the opportunities it provides to explore oneself and the broader world. This, she highlighted, is the greatest luxury afforded to students.

“You don’t get this kind of opportunity – at this age or any other age – anywhere else. It’s very likely that this will be the only time in your life when you will spend a significant length of time in the same space as people who are your age, but who are all from different backgrounds; different communities; different lifestyles, religious beliefs, languages, customs; different tastes in art, music, food and clothes.

“It is the best opportunity that most of us will ever have to explore the different ways that human beings can think and be and act out who we are. You have the luxury of building the most powerful network ever, the luxury of exploring different outlooks of life, the luxury of hearing different opinions,” she added.

In addition to it being a privilege and a chance to engage with others, Phakeng pointed out that this type of exploration is also a survival strategy.