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Rhodes University is a significant institution in Makhanda: it is the biggest local employer and serves as the educational hub around which the city functions. Since 2014, it has been led by Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela. When inaugurated, Dr Mabizela signalled that he would lead a university that would address head-on the challenges faced by its locality and build a more inclusive city, one not just in but for and of Makhanda. Specifically, Dr Mabizela committed the university to revitalising public schooling in the city, for the benefit of its youth, and a mode of ensuring the university’s relevance. As part of this commitment, he established a capable team of university and civil society members who began a process of consultation. This team decided to approach the revitalisation of public education in a systemic manner and design interventions that ranged from early childhood through to the end of high school. Nine Tenths was one of the first initiatives implemented, a targeted programme where student volunteer mentors guide local learners through nine structured sessions, which aim to equip learners to pass to their full potential. The Nine Tenths programme was conceptualised and launched in 2016 and is now in its sixth year.

Mentor and Mentee meeting

Nine Tenths is co-managed by the Rhodes University Community Engagement Division (RUCE), local high schools and a local Non-profit Organisation, GADRA Education. Programme responsibilities are carried out in a participatory manner by each partner based on their skill set and resources. Student volunteers apply to be part of the programme and are put through a rigorous training programme. Student leaders are elected, who each take responsibility for 14 volunteer mentors. These leaders are critical as conduits of information and quality assurance of sessions.

Each student volunteer mentors two learners through the nine targeted sessions. In these sessions, mentees are introduced to appropriate goal-setting, study techniques, weekly support and finally career guidance and applications to tertiary institutions. Meaningful relationships are built between mentors and mentees with a focus on providing support and encouragement. The name of the programme – Nine Tenths – stems from the saying that “Nine tenths of education is encouragement”.

Monitoring and reflection are important aspects of the programme, in conjunction with multi- stakeholder evaluation meetings, quarterly school analysis meetings (learner representatives, teachers, principals, student leaders and programme management) and group analysis meetings, the programme has introduced a trans-disciplinary student research group to measure impact in the programme.


Nine Tenths aims to:

  • Alleviate the poor national school dropout rate, increase the city’s pass rate, and increase access to higher education institutions (and other post-school opportunities) for local students.
  • Contribute to the holistic development and character building of Rhodes University students as socially engaged and critical citizens.
  • Create a successful replicable model to address a common crisis nationally.
  • Cultivate mutually beneficial relationships between mentors and mentees, which serve to embed Rhodes University in its local context, and build the Makhanda community.
  • Build community engagement as an academic discipline.

Student leaders meet in Rhodes Social Innovation Hub to plan and train volunteers