Quality partnerships: The community stakeholders' view

Vhonani Netshandama


Since 1997 universities in South Africa have been encouraged to be responsive to the needs of communities, to encourage broader participation and to address issues of access in higher education (Department of Education 1997). This transformative agenda was found to be especially compelling in the case of rural-based South African universities, which often serve historically disadvantaged black populations in areas that are both under-resourced and underdeveloped (Nkomo & Sehoole 2007, pp. 235–36). In 2006 the traditional leadership of a local community approached the University of Venda to propose a partnership. This prompted the researcher to conduct a qualitative study, which sought to explore and describe community members’ views of what they understood to be a quality partnership. Thirty-seven community representatives were engaged in individual as well as focus group interviews. These representatives were identified first through a stakeholder analysis procedure that sought to determine who in the community would have valuable input for the university-community partnership. As a point of departure, the following two questions were asked consecutively: What are your needs and expectations of a partnership with the university and what would you regard as a quality partnership between the HEI and the community? The sample selection was purposive, utilising the snowball technique. Data was transcribed and analysed using Tesch’s eight-step method (Tesch 1990, in Creswell 1994, p. 155). Interview data and field notes were co-coded, crosschecked and triangulated. Feedback workshops were conducted with the community to confirm the findings. A consensus was reached that four main requirements emerged from the data:
—Balance the partnership objectives of both parties
—Ensure an unexploitative partnership
—Share power and control in the partnership
—Maintain and monitor the partnership.

This article provides a brief overview of the national and regional context to university-community engagement and considers what it means to partner with communities facing urgent and pressing needs. It then looks in detail at what the study revealed about community members’ understanding of quality partnerships with a Higher Education Institution, and provides some thoughts on how to facilitate a quality partnership in a similar context.

Key words: Community, stakeholders, quality partnership

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