Developmental workshops to unlock full student potential at Southern African universities

Stellenbosch University, the Southern African Association for Counselling and Development in Higher Education (SAACDHE) and Golden Key International Honours Society have joined forces in a groundbreaking project for the development of workshops to optimise student potential at higher education institutions in Southern Africa.

The project started with basic pre-planning and a written proposal in 2008. Golden Key South Africa bought into the concept and a few of the newly developed workshops will be piloted during the first six months of 2010. The whole package will then be officially handed over to all participating centres and units at the September 2010 SAACDHE conference in the Western Cape. The eight to ten completed workshops will, thereafter, be continuously monitored and researched, as part of an objective and formal PhD study, to determine students’ and staff’s impressions and experiences of the workshops and the impact thereof up to October 2012.

According to Prof Charl Cilliers, Director: Centre for Student Counselling and Development at Stellenbosch University, it takes more than academic knowledge and qualifications to achieve success in the working world. A recent (2008) study undertaken by Higher Education South Africa (HESA) re-affirms that skilful practices such as communication, problem solving, critical thinking and ability to learn from experiences far outweigh mere subject expertise or formal qualifications.

“This innovative and exciting five-year project will involve the empowerment and improvement of student counselling, career and development centres and units at all participating universities in order to meet the identified challenges. Invitations and arrangement details will be sent to all the centres and units within the next few weeks,” says Prof Cilliers, the driving force behind the development of the workshops. He will be supported by a team of professionals.

Based on the findings, serious consideration will be given to the possibility of re-introducing the project over the next five years locally and potentially even internationally. Prof Cilliers invited other organisations that would like to be involved in the project or would like to contribute financially to contact him at Stellenbosch University.

Why the need for developmental workshops at tertiary institutions?

Research has shown that students need more than technical and professional skills to face the new challenges of work and life, says Prof Cilliers.

He emphasises that contemporary market needs have, for instance, forced countries like India to introduce ‘finishing schools’ in the form of one-year courses in interpersonal skills for new graduate engineers. But, market needs are not the only indicators of this need, as social factors, such as the growing gap between rich and poor, conflict, crime and a growing realisation that we need to do more to prevent corruption and ethical failures, also require that universities come up with new and innovative plans for the optimisation of student potential.

Travis Gale, founder of Apple Tree Catalyst Agency, a company that facilitates people, families, communities, teams and organisations towards new possibilities, and a key role-player in the project, says tertiary institutions therefore need to be pro-active in their methods of developing students for tomorrow’s economy.

Student counselling and career services at tertiary institutions

Student counselling and career services at tertiary institutions have three essential roles (documented by SAACDHE in 2000). One role involves supporting and enhancing wellness and healthy holistic growth and development of students.

A recent (2008) national benchmarking survey by the Centre for Student Counselling and Development at Stellenbosch University showed that a vast majority (93%) of counselling centres in South Africa offer developmental workshops. However, the majority indicated that they experienced budget constraints (80%) and a shortage of staff (67%).

Given the above realities and the fact that these centres and units are experiencing a rise in the severity of student problems, the focus is shifting to crisis interventions, to the possible detriment of developmental programmes. These centres and units urgently need to be empowered to improve this component of their core functioning.

Why Golden Key as sponsoring agent?

Golden Key International Honours Society is the world’s largest academic honours society and recognises and encourages academic excellence among the top 15% of university students. Membership of the Society is by invitation only and is solely based on academic performance. Currently more than 360 universities across the world are Golden Key Chapters.

Besides academic recognition at an international level, Golden Key offers access to financial assistance in the form of scholarships and awards, networking opportunities, both nationally and internationally, education-focussed community service events and career development.

Golden Key’s mission is to enable members to realise their potential by connecting individual achievement with service and lifelong opportunity. Therefore the Society has decided to take hands with an initiative towards optimising student potential at universities.

“This project will act as an awareness tool influencing the mindset of students and preparing them to bridge the gap between student life and the workplace,” says Ms Charlene Gunter, Director: Golden Key South Africa. “The initiative will enable all higher education institutions to stimulate a healthy student culture, by understanding the impacts of life and the importance of education. Personal and professional development of students over a diverse spectrum will guarantee high performers.”

  • For further information, please contact Prof Cilliers, Centre for Student Counselling and Development, Stellenbosch University, at tel 021 808 4971, cell 082 803 3050 or via e-mail at or Ms Charlene Gunter, Golden Key South Africa, at tel 012 807 7117 or via e-mail at
  • For more information on Golden Key International Honour Society, please visit or or contact the South African office at 012 807 7117.
  • For more information on SAACDHE, visit