“ISIDIMA” Enhanced First Year Experience

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On Friday 15th of February the Department of Student Affairs through its Residence Office held its First-Year-Student-Residence-Dinner at the ELCO test venue, Gasson Centre. This was the first of its kind at the insititution. The residences are a home away from home to a significant number of students especially first years. Research has shown that students, who reside in University accommodation, perform academically better than their peers do.  It is for this reason that university residences need to enhance first year student experience by developing Living and Learning communities. This may happen by turning common spaces into study areas.  Academics can also be encouraged to facilitate learning at the identified spaces at the residences.  Residence staff can play a significant role in the identification of on-risk students and referring them to responsible entities within the University


he Dinner was part of the Student Affairs enhanced first year experience. When asked why such an extension to the Orientation process, the Dean of Students Mr Malinge Gqeba, said “the process seeks to supplement the established culture of a two-week orientation programme. In the two-week orientation programme, students are bombarded with too much  information for their grasp and in the process,  critical information for  their survival gets lost along the way”.


There is considerable evidence to suggest that the growing rate of enrolments in Higher Education Institutions is to some degree cancelled out by high attrition rates particularly amongst first year students.  There is increased pressure for universities to develop mechanisms aimed at retaining their first year students.  This is coupled with the need to ensure that first years also perform academically well.  Therefore, student affairs have the Extended First Year Experience programme with aims to engage first year students.  Research has shown that engaged students perform academically well. Therefore, the objectives of the Isidima Enhanced First Year programme are to ensure that students adjust to the University environment; enhance academic excellence and contribute towards student retention.


The program will also help in the institutions student recruitment marketing activities. Ms Nomi Kema from Student Recruitment Division supported the event and hailed the event as enhancing the student’s arrival experience at the university. “It is a fun way of introducing and helping new students feel part of the university community. This will go a long way in helping us recruit high calibre student to the university”    


One of the first steps to the enhanced first year experience is making sure that students have residences and are happy in those residences. The residence dinner therefore was part of this process.


Interim Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof John Hendriks gave the keynote address in which he said, “University requires you to be serious but there is also fun to be had, there are extramural activities that are available and students should take advantage of this, as your university experience needs to be balanced”   


At the dinner, the Residence Officers were introduced to ensure that students know their faces and where to go if they have any challenges. The event was a light-hearted affair with limited speeches to suit the age of the audience. Mr Khotso Moabi, Marketing and Communications Manager in his welcome address told students that, “you can exhale, and have nothing further to worry about regarding university access challenges. However, we encourage you, do not stay beyond your time. This reduces our student intake in each subsequent year and has financial implications for the university”. 


Student also heard from Postgraduate Law student Ms Tandokazi George who told s story of how frustrating her first year was. “University can be hard; arranging accommodation, funding and equally take responsibility for yourself can be daunting but it can also be fun and a great learning experience if you have the right attitude.” She elaborated on exciting experience participating in the National Moot Court Competition in 2018 where she was part of the Fort Hare team to Cape Town, which won.   

Students enjoyed themselves and were dressed to kill in fancy attires. In different tones, they indicated that the event made them feel part of the university, and further confirmed for them that they were in the right institution.