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Community perceptions of the impacts and benefits of a service learning project for small, medium and micro enterprises in a department of tourism management at a university of technology
Mokoena, Pavla Phitlhelelo
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Community engagement in universities of technology is evolving to become a game-changer in addressing the economic challenges of the country (Erasmus, 2005:4). Service learning (SL) as a form of community engagement is promoted in higher education, as a learning paradigm. Conway, Amel and Gerwien (2009:238) encourage enquiry into the benefits of this pedagogy and the partnerships involved, as faculties curriculate and adopt the service learning model into current programmes (Lazarus, Erasmus, Hendricks, Nduna & Slamat, 2008:60-61). The SL project of the Tourism Management Department at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is distinctive in design from the generic social-change focussed projects within Universities of Technology (UoTs). Its outcomes are based on the development of business plans for small and medium enterprises for implementation. The assessment of this interactive learning process was essential to determine whether it yielded any positive change in the participants. Thus the aim of the study is to determine the success or otherwise of the service learning project, so as to ensure that the small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) community and students benefit from the Tourism Management project. The study sample included nine small and medium tourism entrepreneurs (SMTEs) and 178 third year tourism management students. From the sample two SMTEs participated in one-on-one interviews and six students participated in a focus-group interview. Action research was undertaken for this study, and census sampling was adopted to collect quantitative and qualitative data from project participants. The ATLAS.ti 7 data analysis programme was employed to process the qualitative data, and SPSS 22.0 software was utilised to develop frequency tables from the quantitative data. All data was triangulated to obtain conclusions. Fifty-two percent (52%) of student participants learnt leadership skills, with 64% indicating essential benefits on business skills. Company visions were shared throughout the collaborative process, and 76% of SMTE responses, directed to the students’ solutions, being highly innovative for their businesses; and these were implemented to improve business processes. The findings of the study attested to the SL model improving reciprocal learning, and having positive benefits for all partners involved. In continuing the essential dialogue on implementation of SL in higher education, sustainable partnerships in SL projects are essential to ensure continued positive results. The majority of participants responded positively to a willingness to participate in a similar project, which is a positive indicator of the benefits of the project. Implications for future studies point towards a need for continued monitoring of growth performance in the participating small and medium enterprises.