The Rising Need for Open Days at Universities

The Rising Need for Open Days at Universities

Lessons from student-driven efforts in Kenyan universities

Nashon J. Adero ·8 min read

Key Highlights

  • Being a serious university student in the 1990s and even early 2000s had the meaning of reading lecture notes assiduously and referring to books frequently, a good number of them quite old and yellow.
  • Today’s job opportunities are to be created and attracted, not sought for and given.
  • The world is now more in need of a skills-based higher education that can produce and recharge the right pool of workforce with the most in-demand skills.
  • Young graduates today must create their own opportunities and reasons that make them indispensable to the changing labour market, which is highly influenced by digital transformation.
  • Open days, such as the ones organised by Enactus university student clubs, are a great idea for mentorship in skills development, leadership, global citizenship, digital fluency, innovation, and social entrepreneurship — more of what the world needs for sustainable development.
  • A student-driven approach is the more impactful and sustainable path to creating a new generation of innovative and responsible leaders — change makers nurtured and matured with a balanced diet of quality education, experience, exposure, and empathy (4Es).

Expectations are the measure of satisfaction; the more you expect, the higher the threshold for satisfaction.

Looking Back on History from the Vantage Position of Dual Experience

In the 1990s and even early 2000s, the Internet was still a preserve and privilege for the minority, more so in Africa. As engineering students taking some units in computer science at the University of Nairobi, I remember how we would wake up at dawn, walk from the Main Campus, then proceed to line up outside the-then sole computer lab at Chiromo Campus for the very rare chance of getting to use a computer connected to the Internet. It was a gamble most of the time as many would be turned away due to the limited workstations, only enough for the early bird.

The excitement of opening a web page then rivalled what would be today’s excitement with streaming YouTube videos on a high-end smartphone. The speed of connection then was a snail’s pace compared to today’s experience, though. This lesson goes a long way in confirming that expectations are the measure of satisfaction; the more you expect, the higher the threshold for satisfaction.

Textbooks from bookshops or the library were the go-to material for studying and all references. Journal papers were a rare sight; you would be lucky to get some printed hard-copy extracts one of the few professors then was carrying around. To the generation in Kenya whose university days coincided with this period, being a serious student had the meaning of reading lecture notes assiduously, being in the library most of the time, and referring to books frequently, a good number of them quite old and yellow.

Attending international conferences was a rare privilege undergraduate students would not even dare dream of. Universities were operating almost like closed and exclusive environments — having a weak and somewhat muted interaction with the outside world. The university hostels were enough for all the resident students. The space was enough for the low number of students over that period.

With fewer cases of overwhelmed instructors and counterfeits, qualifications on paper were considered authentic enough to secure meaningful engagements as workers who still had time to learn on the job. The majority, even among STEM graduates, interacted meaningfully with computers at workplace for the first time.

That was then. The unavoidable force of generational succession has brought forth new realities. Mentorship, digital fluency, and global citizenship are now emerging as the new powerful trinity of factors for preparing the youth to be influential leaders and agents of change in the new era.

The Changing Face of Living Spaces

With the high and increasing number of learners joining universities in Kenya and most countries in Africa, new challenges emerge coupled with rapid urbanisation. More and more students have to be accommodated together with other citizens in private apartments away from campus, exposing them early to the outside world where they can daily interact with the problems facing the public, such as safety and security concerns. This can be seen to be a growing problem.

On the flip side, however, today’s university students are better placed to become aware of such public problems earlier and can be inspired earlier to focus on innovative and sustainable solutions. It is a fertile training ground for leadership with a solution-oriented mindset.

The Change to Digital Workspaces

With digitalisation and global connectivity, things have changed drastically since the digital desert witnessed in the 1990s and earlier. COVID-19 has also introduced a new and compelling cause for virtual classrooms and virtual or hybrid conferences. Seeing hybrid events as shown below has become the new normal.

Journal papers have become a common scene with online subscriptions, an increasing share being published for free open access. In Kenyan public universities, for example, publishing a journal paper has become a requirement for all Master’s students before they can graduate.

If the fact that the older generation had to contend with hard times getting information and collaborating beyond borders was a big problem, then the new generation of learners have a bigger problem. The abundance of information and incessant streams on social media have become a frenemy — both a friend and an enemy to knowledge acquisition and skills development.

On the one hand, digital developments have pushed the boundaries and shortened the time for learning new things and sharing. On the other hand, choosing what matters from the massive volumes of (big) data and information while staying focused has become elusive. Thus, disciplined and smart planning has become even more critical.

The Changing Equation of Sustainable Competitiveness

The competitiveness and self-awareness of a modern university student or young graduate must take on a new meaning. Networking and emotional intelligence are becoming more of necessities than options for coping with the emerging social challenges of higher education and training in a new era.

Graduating from a university without interacting meaningfully outside the classroom with potential mentors and other stakeholders in society has become an undisputed liability. Paper qualifications are no longer enough as we witness drops of skills in an ocean of academic qualifications. Skills are the first and foremost point of focus modern employers have learnt to direct their attention at.

At work, the threshold of techno-savviness required to stand out among the masses so as to attract higher compensation and rewards is rising as automated and software-based solutions become commonplace. The reskilling and upskilling cycle has to be more frequent as automation creates new jobs requiring fewer but highly qualified personnel. Knowledge workers, as such, have to sustain their relevance by advancing their knowledge and awareness of risks more decisively with the reduced half-life of skills. The result is that the world is now more in need of a skills-based higher education that can produce and recharge the right pool of workforce with the most in-demand skills. These exciting dynamics and the globalisation of talent pools have positioned “skills revolution” as an inescapable reality modern organisations and their workers must measure up to for sustainable competitiveness.

The Increasing Utility of Open Days

The number of university students in Kenya and similar regions is burgeoning and is not going to relent any time soon. This is an irrefutable position. The borderless competition, intercultural interactions, and the increasingly digital global village today’s learners find themselves in necessitate more open days for open exchange between students, teachers, industry experts, decision-makers, and opinion leaders in society. Effective communication, networking and fundraising skills, and digital competencies are precipitating a new minimum requirement for effective collaboration towards impactful innovations and social entrepreneurship.

Today’s job opportunities are to be created and attracted, not sought for and given. In other words, the new generation of graduates needs to be well equipped with skills that make them magnetic to the labour market, which is highly dynamic under the influence of digital transformation. They must create their own opportunities and reasons that make them indispensable to the changing labour market. Lifelong skills development is a must, and so are mentorship, industry exposure, and the discipline, diligence and readiness to regularly reskill, upskill, and deep-skill.

No traditional lecture or classroom settings can allow for the impartation of all the desired qualities above. As university student populations increase, universities must explore new avenues for dialogue, exchange, and multi-stakeholder collaboration. More open days for showcasing innovative solutions, free dialogue, and mentorship messages are justified as an integral part of offering pragmatic solutions with collective responsibility.

The banner below is a suitable example of what students from Taita Taveta University, a young Kenyan university, are already doing to promote open days and tap into the rich resources and room such days provide for career development and responsible global citizenship. As practised in other Kenyan universities with Enactus chapters, the faculty advisor should insist on a student-driven approach. A student-driven approach is the more impactful and sustainable path to creating a new generation of innovative and responsible leaders — change-makers nurtured and matured with a balanced diet of quality education, experience, exposure, and empathy (4Es).

Enactus, branded as the world’s largest experiential learning platform, is “dedicated to creating a better world while developing the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators”. The vision of Enactus is to create a better, more sustainable world. Enactus has been at the forefront as an international social entrepreneurship project presentation competition for university students, featuring the famous Enactus World Cup annually for the best student innovators.

Open days organised by Enactus university student clubs are a great idea for mentorship in skills development, leadership, global citizenship, digital fluency, innovation, and social entrepreneurship — more of what the world needs for sustainable development. Faculty advisors use such events to promote new thinking among students, founded on the core values of innovation, creativity, selfless service, and empathy for sustainable solutions that nourish and empower healthier and progressive societies.

Welcome to the hybrid Enactus Open Day to be held at Taita Taveta University on February 3, 2022. It will run from 08:00 to 14:00 EAT.

Register:

When: Feb 3, 2022 08:00 AM EAT

https://ttu-ac-ke.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwvfu2vpzoqEtfVUi5Cc2RpK5WIRhy9wYDj

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Nashon J. Adero

Nashon, a geospatial expert, lecturer and trained policy analyst applies dynamic models to complex adaptive systems. He is a youth mentor on career development and the founder of Impact Borderless Digital.