Change the world


For any university, its alumni are more than just graduates. Once they cross the stage and enter the workplace, these alumni become ambassadors who carry the university’s values and accomplishments into the world.


Recognising and supporting alumni is a strategic investment that can create a ripple effect of positive outcomes, both for the individual and the institution.

When a university actively celebrates the successes of its alumni, it fosters a sense of pride and belonging among all its members.

For students particularly they see evidence of the institution's ability to nurture potential and equip graduates with the skills and knowledge to succeed.

Alumni serve as role models for current students through demonstrating diverse career paths and avenues for success.

Further, through sharing their stories, they provide valuable insights into their student journeys and transition to the world of work. This can motivate students to strive for excellence.

It is valuable for students to hear how someone viewed as a success developed strategies to overcome difficulties and disappointment. This information also provides universities with information on how they can transform academic and support programmes to ensure student engagement and success.

Further, bringing alumni “into the classroom” as guest lecturers to talk about their work experiences can bolster student understanding of what to expect and how best to prepare themselves – both in and beyond the academic programme.

Research has found that there is a gap between what students expect of work and what they encounter in the first year of employment. Through interaction with alumni this gap can be narrowed, resulting in improved performance and greater retention of newly appointed graduates.

For many students, working life is not what they pictured, and the experience of delayed gratification and progression may lead to unhappiness. Alumni advising students not to be quick to reject work experience that can be seen as ‘below’ them could provide the motivation necessary for students to see their programmes and course through to the best of their ability.

Graduating from university and securing a job is the primary  goal of students. The joy felt from this accomplishment is often short lived when the transition from student to working professional proves to be gruelling instead of glamourous. It can appear as though the years of studying have not prepared one holistically and this can cause despondency. This is where alumni can step in.

Through becoming mentors and coaches they work alongside graduates, requesting their insight into projects and tasks. This promotes positive workplace experiences and encourages graduates to find their voice. The feedback and critique offered can promote the building of resilience and positive responses to feedback and situations that may not always work out in their favour.

While universities play a critical role in preparing students for the workforce, alumni can, through their professional networks and expertise, act as bridges between academia and the world of work. They do this by offering valuable career guidance, internship opportunities, and mentorship. Evidence suggests that only 30% of new graduates in South Africa find employment. Through their involvement alumni have the potential to improve this statistic.

A further critical role played by alumni is through their involvement as experts in academic advisory boards. These boards play a critical role in ensuring that university academic programmes remain relevant and reflect content that will equip graduating students with current and future job-related knowledge and skills.

Alumni can also play a role in shaping the research and engagement programmes of universities through their understanding of what is needed in the private and public sector, as well as by different communities.

Alumni are a university's most credible and persuasive advocates. Their positive experiences and achievements serve as an effective form of marketing. This can act as a powerful endorsement in attracting talented students. Additionally, their financial contributions, through scholarships and donations, play a vital role in supporting the university's infrastructure, research initiatives, and student programmes. This fuels innovation, enables the university to attract and retain talented academic staff, and provides deserving students with access to quality education. This cycle of support ensures the university's continued growth and success, perpetuating the positive impact it has on generations of students.

This article serves as a call to action for universities and alumni alike. Universities must actively cultivate and engage their alumni networks, while alumni should embrace opportunities to connect and contribute to their alma mater.

By nurturing strong alumni relationships, universities can create a vibrant ecosystem of learning, mentorship, and support that ultimately benefits both the institution and its graduates. This virtuous cycle ensures that the university's legacy continues to flourish, leaving a lasting impact on individuals, communities, and the world at large.

Andrea Govender is a lecturer in Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences at the Nelson Mandela University. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the Nelson Mandela University.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160