The important issue of safety and security on university campuses and how it affects student retention and performance came under the spotlight at a recent conference organised by Business Solutions Southern Africa, a leading provider of professional development training programmes.
The Campus Safety, Security, and Student Retention in Higher Learning Institutions in South Africa conference brought together key players from various fields to tackle this pressing issue. The gathering of experts provided a platform for exchanging ideas and best practices, as well as for collaboration among stakeholders from academia, government, law enforcement and the private sector.
‘The aim was to bring attention to these issues and find solutions to ensure a safe and secure environment for students, so they can focus on their studies and reach their full potential,’ said Mrs Shelley Barnsley, Student Support Manager at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.
Barnsley and her colleague, Mr Sanele Zuma, Student Development Officer, presented on the pressing issue of how to address gender-based violence (GBV) in higher learning institutions. In their address, they defined GBV; discussed common GBV incidents in universities and their impact on student retention and campus safety and security; explained the psychology and causes of abuse and violence; explored the role of the Men of Virtue (MOV) programme in addressing the root causes of GBV; and suggested a toolkit for fighting GBV in South African learning institutions.
Barnsley is a registered Counselling Psychologist with 31 years of experience in the field who specialises in student wellness and personal and professional growth. She has facilitated workshops on various topics and presented her work at national and international conferences, and has also published articles and book chapters on Higher Education issues.
Zuma has 10 years of experience in developing and facilitating student development programmes. He trains student organisations, residences and groups in and outside of UKZN to equip them with academic, career and psycho-social skills. He is passionate about the holistic development of students and currently chairs the UKZN MOV programme aimed at ending GBV, femicide and homophobia.
‘Statistics reveal that the prevalence of GBV in institutions of Higher Learning is not significantly different to the GBV rates in the general South African public,’ said Zuma. ‘It is therefore critical for universities to have policies and programmes that are not only aimed at eradicating GBV in our institutions, but which can also position universities as effective catalysts in the fight against GBV in our societies.’
‘GBV affects not only the students’ physical and emotional wellbeing, but also their academic performance and, ultimately, their ability to successfully complete their education and reach their full potential.’
In addition to addressing GBV and its impact on individuals, families, communities and institutions, the conference also explored safety at student residences where incidents of laptop and cellphone theft, bank account fraud, assault, rape, xenophobic attacks, and abduction are reported.
Occupational health and safety, the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality for improving safety were investigated, including the use of drones in security and other innovative solutions for crime prevention, surveillance and emergency response on university grounds.
‘By coming together and sharing knowledge and experiences, we believe we can work towards creating safer, more secure, and more supportive campuses for students in South Africa,’ said Barnsley.
Words: Sally Frost