University of the Western Cape: Ambassadors help RPL Unit promote hope through higher learning

The University of the Western Cape’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) unit has created the first Student Ambassadors’ Forum (SAF), another impressive chapter in its ever-evolving story of promoting lifelong learning. The nine student ambassadors will directly link the RPL unit with anyone with ambitions of studying at UWC.

Each member has a personal story of how RPL has changed their life.

Nicole Lopes, 28, is from Tulbagh. She explained the RPL programme was “a game-changer” and a “safe haven” that rescued her from the ravages of alcoholism.

Nicole said: “I’m not ashamed to say it. I went to AA meetings. Before RPL I didn’t believe I can achieve a lot of things. Once I started seeing the results of my hard work, it made me believe in myself more. It’s about being resilient and accomplishing things in life.”

Now in the third year of a law degree at UWC, she has made the Dean’s Merit List twice. “I did it in my first year and second year,” said Nicole, “and I am hoping to be there this year too. As an ambassador, my plan is to shine more light on the RPL programme. I want to show people there is a way forward, even if they don’t think so. You can change your life. RPL is giving people that opportunity.”

Deon Brookstein from Lotus River recently completed his Advanced Diploma in Management. The 54-year-old talks passionately about his commitment to lifelong learning. “I want to complete my PhD. But that will be in my sixties,” he said.

Psychology major Aqnatius Stander plans to promote a positive impression of RPL in her home neighbourhood of Elsies River.

“RPL means change to me because I changed my perspective. I changed how I think, critically. RPL has opened up a lot of opportunities for me to find my identity. I found my passion through RPL, and that is to do school psychology. The end goal is to do my honours, then my Master’s and, one day, I’ll be Dr Stander.”

The head of UWC’s RPL unit, Dr Rekha Rambharose, describes the SAF as a “milestone moment” that will have “many folds of impact” in promoting lifelong learning.

“We are driving the policy, we are driving the practice, we are shaping the way we are as mentors. I wanted to create a platform where we have a space to actually acknowledge that and to drive this process even further,” she said.

“The Ambassadors’ Forum is about acknowledging our former and current RPL students who work so hard to overcome many hurdles and achieve their goals and professional aspirations.”

Dr Rambharose, who is the chief investigator for the RPL Unit’s Technology Enhanced RPL Implementation (TERI) research project, was voted one of four global prizewinners in May by the 4th VPL Biennale initiated by the European Centre Valuation Prior Learning [n1] (EC-VPL), for her unit’s “technology-enhanced learning, assessment, development and academic strategies for RPL student success[n2] ”.

Dr Rambharose explained the SAF will support people who have never had the opportunity to study at university to access higher education.

“We want to change lives and impact the generations to come. The forum aims to promote social cohesion, community upliftment, professional development, peer learning, relational mentoring and employability. We don’t just want to embed graduate attributes, but we want this crop of students to breed a new generation of knowledge producers.”