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The value of a Wits qualification


What should you be able to accomplish as a result of studying at Wits?

The question of what it means to be a Wits graduate arises formally at least every five years, when the University reviews its academic plans.  But it’s worth thinking about, whether you’re an alumnus, employer, student or academic.   

A recent description of what Wits aims to produce can be found in Wits’ 2015 Integrated Report. It speaks of “professionals and members of civil society with a balanced set of attributes, which include: well-groomed social values; a sense of public good; functioning knowledge; critical thinking skills; reflective competencies; appreciation of diversity; and an understanding of the complexities of life as an opportunity for critical engagement.” In short: “global citizens who are passionate about intellectual and social engagement and environmental factors”.

The notion of graduate attributes and how to instil them is a field of study in itself. They have been defined as “the qualities, skills, knowledge, abilities, attitudes and understanding which a university agrees its students should develop while at the institution”. So: not just subject knowledge or technical competence but a way of thinking and, hopefully, readiness for whatever life presents in future.

These things can’t simply be assumed. They have to be taught explicitly or deliberately built in to the learning programme, says Denise Chalmers, an emeritus professor at the University of Western Australia who was at Wits in November to lead workshops for Wits academics. 

Prof Chalmers says that Wits’ most recent “statement of graduateness” – a list of 17 attributes (see below) – is worded like a contract. It is a commitment to ensuring that graduates demonstrate certain outcomes. This means the University has to be able to verify that it has delivered what it promised.

Some lecturers are equipping themselves for this challenge through Wits’ postgraduate diploma specialising in higher education. 

One such is Dr Yomi Babatunde, a senior lecturer in the School of Construction Economics and Management, who is passionate about creating a strong link between university learning and industry practice.

Originally qualified as an architect in Nigeria, he also has 10 years’ experience of international project management in Singapore. When he came to Wits, he designed a “capstone” course for construction management students, bringing together everything they had been learning in a way that simulated real work experience. Practical and multidisciplinary, it prompted students to prepare for all sorts of things they might encounter on a construction project – including unforeseen changes.

Dr Babatunde has now conducted research into how well this course prepared students for the working world. The students completed the course in 2014 and were surveyed in 2016. On average they had 19 months’ work experience. A list of 30 skills and attributes was compiled and the graduates assigned values to the importance of each of these. They also commented on what they valued about the capstone course, with the benefit of experience.

The next phase of the research will bring in the perspective of employers (including some Wits alumni) and all this will then be fed into fine-tuning the design of the course.  

Universities that do well with capstone courses tend to emphasise group-based work, Babatunde says. Skills like team-building are even more important in construction management than the ability to work autonomously. The skill that graduates in his survey rated most important was time management. Next came active listening and interpersonal skills. Fourth was acceptance of responsibility, and fifth was adaptability to a changing work environment.

Among the advice of graduates to future students in their field: “do as much vacation work as possible”; “look for opportunities to form social network groups”; “understand how to work with human beings”; “have practical work exposure before enrolling”; “look for a mentor”.

So, if you got what you paid for at Wits – a sense of public good – there is important work for you to do as an example and as a creator of opportunity.

Wits graduate attributes

  • In-depth knowledge of specialist discipline
  • Set of transferable skills in different types of employment
  • Innovative and critical thinking skills with commitment to continuous learning
  • Good verbal and written communication skills
  • Strong sense of the ethics of scholarship and intellectual integrity
  • Ability to conduct research, analyse and present information coherently
  • Ability to relate to a wider range of subjects with a reasonable depth and breadth of knowledge
  • Functional knowledge across broad range of disciplines and transferability of such knowledge to various contexts
  • Global citizenship with the ability to confront life’s ambiguities and complexities and solve problems
  • Continuous development of cognitive and professional skills through lifelong learning
  • Transferable skills and functional knowledge of different employment opportunities
  • Interpersonal skills and an ability to appreciate and embrace diversity
  • Ability to bring about innovation and constructive change in professions and civil society
  • Leadership and mentorship
  • Understanding of human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability imperatives
  • Sense of public good and civic responsibility
  • Respect for indigenous knowledge, values and cultures

Which lecturers or experiences at Wits gave you the attributes you value most? Let us know!