Alumni, their role in growth of universities

Monday September 10 2018

 Some of the Victoria University graduates cele

Some of the Victoria University graduates celebrate during the 3rd graduation ceremony in Kampala recently. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By Dr Mesharch Katusiimeh

I have had a chance of speaking to the alumni of different institutions especially secondary schools and primary schools about the role of the alumni in the development of their alma mater.

I have also participated in organising alumni dinners such as for the Nganwa High School Old Students Association (NOSA) and Masheruka Secondary School Old Students Association (MOSA) in Sheema District.

Our active participation in these alumni associations have in a way galvanised other schools and almost weekly I read alumni associations active and giving back to their former schools.

However, we have had less involvement of the alumni in the development and growth of universities. Makerere University, the prime institution has tried to involve the thousands and thousands of the alumni with little effect. Why is this so? The purpose of this article is to explain the meaning of the concept alumni; what a university is all about and her functions and eventually the role of the alumni.

Traditionally, a university is not a business or profit-oriented organisation because it differs from other forms of organisations. And that is why alumni associations are important in almost all the prestigious universities because they play a fundamental role as we will discuss below.

Alumni is a body or group of alumnus - former students or pupils of a school, college, or university. Commonly, but not always, the word refers to a graduate of the educational institute in question.

It is a truism that the reputation of any educational institution depends upon good results, co-curricular activities, environment, and investments. But there is one factor which only requires support and encouragement and brings strength and expansion to the institution’s reputation and progress and that factor is the alumni’s of the Alma Mater. Let us turn to the roles they can play in a university setting.

Role model and inspiration
Alumni are effective role models and can be easily accepted by students. With the return of the alumni to support the university, they bring with them credibility and justification as part of a successful university, having breathed the same air and encountering similar challenges faced by the students.

Career mentor
Competition in joining the workforce is becoming more intense as a result of the high number of graduates compared to the limited number of job opportunities. In the final year of their studies, students must identify seriously their career prospects.

This is the right time for alumni to support the students by mentoring them on their opportunities in the industry and opening channels for the students for acceptance, either in undergoing practical learning or work experience in the institutions where the alumni reside.

Providing expertise
The alumni can provide expertise in their occupation in developing new study programmes at the university. Alumni can contribute as guest lecturers, advisors in committees, industry experts and cooperative partners in projects with the university. This will improve the development of their alma mater.

Professional development
When the alumni community is successful and obtain recognition from the corporate world, industry and the wider community, it can potentially create a stronger network as well as trust in the university and in turn, will assist younger alumni from the university to access opportunities in improving their careers and professionalism.

Improve recruitment
Alumni can encourage students especially their family and friends to consider their university as the provider for higher education. Voluntary alumni can be ambassadors that are involved actively in student recruitment efforts that are made by the faculties of the university.

Collecting funds
An active alumni association can encourage greater collection of funds enabling the establishment of scholarships, supporting students’ activities, cultural programmes and clubs and associations’ expeditions, and support innovative improvements at the university. Harvard University and Al Azhar University are examples of universities having the largest endowment funds in the world and a substantial part of it is contributed by the alumni.

The alumni’s role is crucial for the development of a university. All alumni can provide support in various aspects that are beneficial to the students, graduates, alumni, universities and the society.
Dr Mesharch Katusiimeh is an educationist and former Vice Chancellor of Ankole Western University

How to inspire
When alumni share with students whether their experiences in time management, financial management, development of self-discipline and character, or in career management, they can be easily accepted by students as guidance and inspiration. Through this way, alumni can assist in strengthening confidence, improve motivation and inculcate the right culture in line with what the university intends to convey to its students.