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New cooperation between Belgium Campus and KU Leuven

 

In September, Belgium Campus and the Faculty of Engineering Sciences (Faculteit Industriële Ingenieurswetenschappen or FIIW) of KU Leuven in Belgium signed a Letter of Intent. This Letter of Intent is a display of commitment from both parties to cooperate in the fields of education, research and service. Following the signing, the partnership was immediately put into practice with the submission of a project application. This application will see the FIIW supporting Belgium Campus in the creation of a new Master of ICT in Innovation based at Belgium Campus.

Creators of knowledge

The Master programme aims to train students as Creators of Knowledge by actively involving them in projects and innovation, and giving them hands-on experience. The importance of real hands on experience, as opposed to a curriculum with only lab-based experiments, allows for the creation of real accountability by students. These students will design projects that can actually be implemented and add value in a real world setting.

During their training in the Innovation Village, Belgium Campus’s open innovation centre, students will carry out research based on the needs of their region, or regions in South Africa that may be experiencing social or economic difficulties. Their research will include identifying challenges, finding ways to create opportunities, and using the knowledge gained through their research to cater for the needs of the local economy. By developing projects which address real world issues and their contact with companies, our students learn “the business” of creating social purpose.

These objectives are in line with the faculty’s vision for students. That vision is ensuring that they are better prepared for the labour market (industry readiness) through business experience in addition to technical expertise, people skills, innovation orientation, and entrepreneurship. These features are currently housed in the Postgraduate of Innovative Entrepreneurship for Engineers course, which the FIIW is awaiting accreditation for.

 Collaboration

The cooperation established by the two-year Master of ICT in Innovation gives both the Belgium Campus and FIIW many opportunities to respond to these educational and research needs. The cooperation will also see Belgium Campus together with its partners involved in the exchange of knowledge and experience, facilitating teacher and student mobility, the development of common modules, and collaboration on innovation.  In the broader perspective, ICT projects like these will address real social problems and deliver relevant solutions. These are features that students need now more than ever as they find themselves in a global context.

 Commitment to community

From our establishment in 1999, socially relevant training has always been recognized as part of Belgium Campus’s mission. The campus’s founders, Vice Chancellor Enrico Jacobs and Chairman Jan Rombouts, set out to combine Belgian quality training with a clear commitment to the community. This link between education and community is not something commonly implemented by other educational institutions in South Africa, despite the urgent need for it. This need stems from South Africa’s exceptionally high unemployment rate (5.5 million people under the age of 27 are unemployed), coupled with a shortage of graduates with the right skills, knowledge and competencies to fill this shortfall. This is especially true for the ICT sector where only 1200 students, of the 750 000 who graduate yearly in South Africa, have specialised in ICT!

To address both these problems, an ambitious task in itself, required Belgium Campus to take a unique approach. This led to the development of the Participative Model of Education. This approach seeks active engagement with all stakeholders: students, the region (needs of the local economy) companies (graduate profile, internship and project opportunities and educational grants), and policy makers.  In keeping with this unique approach, Belgium Campus has always sought new talent from all walks of life, a far cry from the policies undertaken by the 25 plus public universities in South Africa. At Belgium Campus, students who may struggle during their studies, be it financially or emotionally, are given the support and opportunities to complete their studies successfully. This dedication to students speaks for itself with Belgium Campus achieving an 85% graduation rate; a significant achievement when compared to the 12% found in public universities.

Job security

Belgium Campus’s high success rate does mean that the quality of our education is compromised. All Belgium Campus programmes are accredited by the Department of Higher Education and Training and the NVAO! Our programmes also offer more credits when compared to the equivalent programs followed by fellow universities.  The importance of understanding the needs of the student provides them with proper guidance, and the contact they receive with stakeholders is a great opportunity for all students.

 This dedication to the student shines through when you take into consideration the 120 ITC students who graduate annually from Belgium Campus make up 10% of the qualified ICT workers in South Africa!  Given the skills imparted to these graduates, the returns gained by all stakeholders are large, and result in an appreciation of both private and public institutions. With a Belgium Campus qualification behind their name, every Belgium Campus graduate is guaranteed job security!

ICT transcends the local context and in order to guarantee the necessary expertise and knowledge, Mr. Jacobs has put a lot of emphasis on Belgium Campus’s relationship and collaboration with international companies and educational institutions. In Belgium, Belgium Campus is part of an ever-strengthening partnership with KHLeuven and KHLim whom we work together with on Bachelor programmes. We are also part the Erasmus exchange program with KU Leuven, a unique position for any South African institute!

For more information on this new partnership, visit http://iiw.kuleuven.be/nieuws/nieuwe-samenwerking-met-belgium-campus-in-zuid-afrika

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(Left) Wim Van Petegem-Administrative and Support Services, Faculty of Engineering Technology at KU Leuven, (Center) Enrico Jacobs-Belgium Campus Vice Chancellor, (Right) Brian William-Director of Education at the Belgium Campus.