Perceptions on a student leadership development initiative
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Leadership development involves the empowerment and preparation of individuals to be social change agents by developing their understanding of others and self awareness of their roles and responsibilities as leaders in different contexts. In the South African context, student representative councils (SRCs) at universities is an important mechanism to ensure that all South African students receive quality higher education in a safe, disciplined and healthy environment, that is underpinned by access, success and equity which are critical areas of focus in the transformation process. SRCs, as a well organized body, with the necessary skills can channel their capability and commitment toward improving university life for students. As Fullan (1993:182) argues that we hardly know anything about what students think about educational change because no one ever asks them. A student leadership initiative can be a potential for change in universities, since students as the “guardians of the existing culture can be the final arbiters of any change” (Wideen, 1992: 182). Further, by harnessing SRCs as potential reinforcers for improvement, there is more concern with the process through which successful change can be introduced in universities. Since SRCs are vested with the authority to contribute to good governance within universities, students place their trust in it. Therefore, SRCs need the requisite skills to make decisions that do not compromise the interests of students whom they represent. The study aimed to examine student perceptions and expectations of leadership through democratic deliberation at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), in partnership with the International Centre on Non Violence (ICON) and The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Conflicts (ACCORD). The student leadership course was a pioneer initiative for student leaders, comprising of local and international students studying at DUT. The rationale for this was the identified need for focused research into what student leaders perceive leadership to be and the value they derive from attending leadership initiatives. The partners felt it important to document student voices through a leadership initiative. The narrative, through a qualitative analysis, captured the contradictions and conflicting challenges student leaders face today, which are always problematic and dynamic, especially when public interests are not at the forefront of the agenda. Students stated that the course was beneficial, because it helped to: focus on purpose and goals of being SRC members; understand cultural diversity; show more interest in developing leadership skills as a collective; gain a sense of clarity of personal and university values; gain improved negotiation, conflict resolution and decision making skills; deal better with complex issues; and willing are able to use leadership practices for the benefit of all stakeholders. It is ultimately envisaged that the leadership initiative will be extended beyond the frontiers of DUT to other local, national and possibly international higher education institutions. As part of an on-going series of courses relating to student leadership, it is expected that such initiatives with the university partners will strengthen the effectiveness of student leaders, thereby contributing to the process of higher education transformation.
Dorasamy, N and Rampersad, R. 2014. Perceptions on a student leadership development initiative. Corporate Ownership and Control. 12 (1) : 802-809.