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Donovan Neale-May
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99% of Nearly 1,000 Alumni in 22 Countries Rate Their Time at Rhodes as Valuable and Positive

GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa (Sept. 11, 2013) -- "It's not what you think, it's how you think." That should be the mantra of Old Rhodians from South Africa. Some 54% of nearly 1,000 alumni surveyed by Rhodes University this year believe their academic experience at Rhodes stimulated critical thinking and a questioning mind. But most importantly, 99% of Old Rhodians believe they had an extremely memorable and valuable time, or a positive life stage experience, at the institution.

As Rhodes heads towards its 110th year in 2014, the university undertook a milestone online survey of its alumni in May and June to gain perspectives from those who attended the university over the past five decades. A diverse base of 957 Old Rhodians living in 22 countries around the world took part in this comprehensive online assessment.

Just 8% of Old Rhodians report their degree from Rhodes was not relevant to the current work they are doing. More than 50 percent believe it was time well spent as their degree directly correlated with their professional career. A further 40% believe their academic preparation at Rhodes was an excellent foundation for their professional life even if it was not directly related to their ultimate occupation.

While Rhodes might have the reputation of being South Africa's party school, that is clearly debunked by the fact that only 24% of alumni found sports and social life most memorable and a key distinguisher of the university. In contrast nearly 80 percent believe that the unique campus and community setting of Rhodes is the biggest differentiator, followed by its academic standards and teaching excellence (67%).

Key findings from the alumni study showed that:

  • 54 percent of those who attended Rhodes believe that is was a formative life stage experience because it stimulated critical thinking and a questioning mind
  • 49 percent of alumni believe that Rhodes is equal in caliber, or better than, leading private colleges/universities in other parts of the world
  • 33 percent view Rhodes as the best liberal arts university in South Africa and 68 percent say it has a more intimate and challenging educational environment compared to others
  • 57 percent of alumni frequently refer and recommend Rhodes to others

"As an outstanding university in South Africa our objectives are to produce knowledgeable, skilled and socially committed and compassionate intellectuals and graduates equipped to exercise leadership in our society," notes Saleem Badat, the Vice Chancellor at Rhodes University. "We continue to pursue a trajectory of becoming more postgraduate and research-oriented without any compromise of the high quality undergraduate provision for which we are well recognised."

"The alumni research project has stimulated more thinking internally about how to brand and position the university relative to its centers of excellence, unique academic environment, and the foundational, life stage experience it provides students," notes Guy White, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at the university. "Enabling graduates to create lasting relationships is a much-valued attribute of a liberal arts education at Rhodes and our alumni relations team seeks to stay connected with our graduates through every life stage."

Rhodes University conducted with the help of GlobalFluency, an international marketing firm, and The SABLE Accelerator, a global network of expatriate South Africans advancing commercial innovation in South Africa. Some 18,000 alumni were sent emails inviting them to contribute views and opinions about their Rhodes experience and how they perceive and rate the institution compared to other universities in South Africa and abroad. The survey instrument included some 35 multiple-choice questions.

Some 40 percent of respondents (387) currently reside abroad. Countries where Old Rhodian survey participants are living include South Africa, USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong/China, Bermuda, India, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The author of the survey was Donovan Neale-May, a member of the Rhodes University Board of Governors and chairman of the Rhodes University Trust USA.

A free 35-page report of the alumni survey can be downloaded here.

About Rhodes University
Rhodes University ( is one of South Africa's 'top five' research-intensive tertiary institutions. Based in the academic enclave of Grahamstown near Port Elizabeth in the
Eastern Cape Province, it has for 109 years produced graduates of outstanding quality. Although the smallest university in the country with 7,500 students, it boasts amongst the highest graduation and throughput rates and is currently host to six national research chairs.

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