Promoting high quality performance through mentoring: a programme for higher education

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Developing resourceful faculty


The quest for excellence


* Prof Liz (ESG) Greyling

Skills Development Facilitator & Training Manager

Training & Development Department

RAU University

PO Box 524

Auckland Park

Dr BG Rhodes

Director: Personnel

RAU University

PO Box 524

Auckland Park


* Author who will be the primary contact



A myriad of changes in higher education workplace contexts is placing exceptionally high demands on the effective functioning of employees. Higher education institutions are obliged to provide maximum support to their employees to ensure that especially newly appointed administrators and managers, but also existing employees, can function effectively and grow to their full potential in the workplace context. A mentoring programme, forming part of a broader wellness programme (physical, mental and social well-being), can constitute a broad support framework for employees. A concerted effort should be made to ensure such support. A mentoring programme would also fit in well with Skills Development and Employment Equity programmes. The authors of this paper were requested to investigate the feasibility of a formal mentoring programme for the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). Management approved the establishment of an Advisory Committee to assist with this research. Mentoring programmes used by three institutions were studied, after which a basic framework document for a proposed mentoring programme was designed and subsequently approved by Management. This paper reports on the research conducted, resulting in the framework for implementing the pilot programme, as well as on the progress made with the implementation thereof.



A legendary story…

Mentoring has had a long and ancient history. It is based on a story in Greek mythology, told in the poet Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca, went to fight in the Trojan war, he appointed his good friend Mentor as a role model, guardian and adviser to his only son and heir, Telemachus. In an interesting feminist interpretation, Powell (1999, in NAWE 1999) argues that the goddess Athena could also be seen as a mentor as, disguised as Mentes, she becomes actively involved in the young man’s life, encouraging him to seek his father, introducing him to the network of heroes and fighting beside him and Odysseus to restore order and to oust the potential usurpers of Odysseus’ kingdom (Workshop for Technikon Pretoria mentors 17 September 2002).

Mentoring has a long tradition in higher education. In the traditional academic model, a professor with noted achievements in a discipline may seek out younger colleagues or students to nurture their development. S/he may encourage them to undertake particular research, to write part of an article or a book with joint attribution or to become research assistants or associates on a large project. As part of this process, skills in research and writing are extended, opportunities to attend conferences or meetings are shared, and information about resources and finance is given. As well, the younger partners learn to ‘decode’ the corporate culture (Chesterman 2001; Geber 2004).
As informal mentoring is based on the familiar interaction between senior and junior employees, it will most probably always take place. Currently, however, greater formal attention is paid to mentoring as a mechanism to assist employees to achieve their full potential (McKenzie 1995). Newly appointed employees may not have the freedom to approach senior employees. On the other hand, some senior employees may not be inclined to share their expertise (for whatever reason), unless formally assigned to do so. As a result, newly appointed employees may be excluded from the politics and power relationships in a specific discipline, the institution and the wider university community. A formal mentoring programme would combat these and other issues, and was therefore proposed for RAU, complementing and strengthening the existing informal mentoring programmes. Mentoring programmes used by three South African higher education institutions were studied, with the aim of designing a basic framework document for the proposed mentoring programme.


As far as could be established, no South African higher education institution offers a successful formal mentoring programme for all staff. Institutions only offer modules of mentoring. Furthermore, such programmes are heavily or fully sponsored by private funding and mostly cater for only one section of the employees, e.g. the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), where only black academic employees are mentored.
WITS University implemented the so-called research-mentoring plan. A research grant is allocated to mentor-mentee pairs. If a lecturer is willing to act as a mentor for a young researcher, the allowance is shared 50:50. Funding is granted to obtain higher qualifications, to do research and/or present research papers at conferences. The mentors are obliged to attend training sessions. This is linked to their development plans. Follow-up sessions must be attended by mentor-mentee pairs. The mentor must complete two progress reports per year (similar to the supervision system for postgraduate qualifications). The first cohort left during 2003, with the second one starting in 2004. Difficulties were experienced with some of the mentor-mentee pairs, and Geber (2004) comments that a huge amount of time was spent on administrating the programme.
Technikon Pretoria conducted a strategic analysis of the external and internal institutional environment and scrutinized economic and social factors that impacted on institutional functioning, use of technology, legislation and demographics. A SWOT analysis was done, taking into account information from a skills audit, PDPs, training interventions, values, cultural differences, relevant policies and organisational structure. Deans of faculties were invited to advise and comment on the general purpose statement (of which mentoring formed part) that was submitted (Le Grange 2002). The Faculty of Engineering had a well-established mentoring system for lecturers and students. From their experience it was learned that the programme must be managed properly, and that there were definite pitfalls. Programme administration was a huge task, and committed staff was a prerequisite for success. A mentoring workshop with the slogan “Growing partnerships together” was subsequently conducted. A pilot study would be launched before the programme would be implemented throughout the technikon.
When designing a Human Resources Development Policy for Technikon Southern Africa (TSA), their performance management system was linked to a mentoring programme for academic staff. A basic framework for a proposed 12-month department specific induction programme for academic staff was designed. This programme can be adapted for a 6-month duration for non-lecturing employees (including support staff).
The proposed mentoring programme for RAU should form part of the University’s about to be debated Human Resources Development Policy. In particular, it also forms part of the Wellness Programme, implemented at the University during 2004.


Implementing a formal mentoring programme for RAU (as for other institutions), has definite cost and staffing implications. It was not be possible to conduct a detailed cost analysis before the start of the programme, as aspects of the programme would evolve during its implementation. Costs depend on the number of staff (mentors and mentees) involved in the programme, the specific environment, eventual number of workshops and possible sponsorships. A preliminary, basic cost analysis included cost of workshops; cost of developing, operationalising and analysing questionnaires, as well as printing costs and paper usage. A budget was submitted and subsequently approved by Management.
It should be taken into account that staff identified as mentors can experience this as a burden or additional workload. Mentoring can also have the adverse effect of losing staff instead of retaining them, as a result of internal and external head hunting. As a result of Employment Equity legislation, other institutions and corporate firms compete for the services of trained and experienced black and coloured staff. Most institutions experience a high turnover rate in black academics and administrative staff. According to Potgieter (2003, in Van Eeden 2003), the reasons given for this are, among others: institutional racism and weak leadership (management);

being regarded as inferior or ‘invisible’; appointed as symbols or tokens;e xpected to maintain unrealistic performance levels; dissimilar approaches to time and punctuality; and unprofessional handling of grievances.

Similar views were voiced by Daniels (2001) in her research into the everyday working experiences of RAU’s Indian, Coloured and African academics, whose cultural, ethnic and/or religious worlds are traditionally different from the mainstream white university culture. Her research sought to provide insight into how their experience as black South Africans impact on their daily interactions on campus, framed within the transformation initiatives at RAU.

A formal mentoring programme was proposed for RAU as this would ensure that all newly appointed employees (academic and non-lecturing) would function effectively in the RAU environment as well as in a variety of social environments, and that they would be retained as productive employees in the university context. Such a programme must be structured, with a clear rationale, measurable goals and outcomes, as well as mechanisms for assessment. Mentors and mentees must be selected and assigned formally, and their achievements must be monitored continuously.


Integral components of a formal mentoring programme were researched, after which the following goals and outcomes were proposed:

Pilot programmes: The implementation of a formal mentoring programme for all newly appointed employees will be preceded by and based on the outcome of at least three pilot programmes, one in an academic environment (within a Faculty), one in a non-lecturing environment (Library) and one in the Support Services environment.

Programme coordinator(s): As coordination is vital for the success of such a programme, a programme coordinator(s) should be identified. Representatives from different environments should also be identified to assist the programme coordinator(s) and to communicate the rationale, goals and outcomes of the programme to the various departments.

Advisory Committee: The Advisory Committee will advise on the identification of the coordinator(s) and representatives. The Committee will also advise on the possibility of using elements of the RAU Certificate programme in Legal Studies in the proposed mentoring programme. This programme includes modules on Teaching Practice (all teaching aspects as well as course administration), university and faculty administration (practical participation supervised by the Dean) and covers 450 notional hours (Rautenbach 2002).

Mentor training: All mentors must be trained. A minimum of five interactive workshops, of 2 – 3 hours duration each will be held, depending on the specific environment and the number of attendees. The programme coordinator(s), in collaboration with a colleague from WITS University will facilitate these workshops.

Timeframe: The mentor-mentee relationship will last for the full probation period of the mentee (one year for academics; six months for non-lecturing employees). The mentee will be assessed by the mentor and line manager to determine his/her proficiency according to set standards. S/he will obtain a certificate of proficiency.

Monitoring in phases: The content and management of regular (at least two hours monthly or one hour fortnightly) meetings between mentor and mentee must be planned and structured, according to the specific context. The process will be monitored in the following phases (compare Sander 2002):

Introduction/relationship-building, which will include providing parameters, defining expectations, information transfer, setting goals.

Assessment analysis (current state of affairs): determining progress, testing and guiding, bridging/gap analysis.

Development/action plan: investigating alternatives, action plans.

Application/assessment (comparing outputs to objectives, including personal objectives and expectations): practical application and repetition of action steps for remaining objectives.

Redefinition/continuation: identifying (by mentee) of own mentoring opportunities, further development that may lead to the mentee becoming a mentor him/herself.

Components of a mentoring programme that were researched included: Examples of existing certificate programmes; profile of a programme coordinator; profile/qualities of a mentor; qualities/characteristics of a mentee; format of mentor-mentee workshops; monitoring schedules; records of mentoring and integration with mentee’s Personal Development Plan (PDP); and programme evaluation forms (Geber, 2004; Johnson, 2002; Lacey, 1999; Sharpnack, 2001-2002).


Thirteen steps were planned for implementing the pilot programme during 2004. It was foreseen that, as the programme progressed, additional workshops might need to be conducted, depending on the various groups’ progress and pitfalls that might be experienced.
Step 1: A seminar on mentorship, to sensitize all staff, held on 26 April 2002, was attended by 45 (mostly) senior staff members. Issues that were discussed, included: a definition of mentorship; advantages and/or disadvantages of an informal mentoring programme as opposed to a formal mentoring programme; role and functions of a mentor; and skills needed to be a mentor.
Step 2: An Advisory Committee was established. The Committee consisted of 11 members, all of whom had expressed interest in the mentoring programme. They represented three faculties, Personnel Services, the Training and Development Department, Library Services, the Student Services Bureau, the trade union and the Registrar: Development. The role of the Committee was to advise on: a formal or informal mentoring programme; the structure of the pilot programme; role and responsibilities of a mentor; commitment and accountability of a mentee; best practices within the institution; and monitoring and evaluation of the programme. In March 2003, the Committee was decreased to nine members, who would be directly involved in implementing the pilot programme, and who could advise on the way forward.
Step 3: Two programme coordinators were identified, one for non-lecturing and support staff and the other for academic staff.
Step 4: On 7 May 2003, a mentoring coordinator training workshop was conducted. Issues that were discussed, included: selection and training of mentors and mentees; monitoring and supporting the mentoring programme; and evaluating the programme.
Steps 5 and 6: Discussions were held with two Deans and the Registrar: Development, in order to get their buy-in and for them to sensitize staff in their faculties, with the purpose of identifying potential mentors. However, it became clear that the Deans had serious doubts about the implementation of the pilot programme. They were of the opinion that it was forced upon them, in addition to a heavy workload and concerns about the forthcoming incorporation and merger. It was therefore decided that the academic mentoring programme would be put on hold until 2004, and that it would be the sole responsibility of the professional development coordinator of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment (CTLA). Discussions held with line managers, Heads of Department and Faculty Administration were very positive. They were invited to nominate a variety of mentors from their sections. The response was good, and it was decided to procede with the mentor training for non-lecturing and support staff. The purpose is to have a pool of available mentors, once the formal programme is implemented. On 10 June 2003, the first interactive mentoring workshop was conducted. It was attended by 28 potential mentors, while an additional six mentors were identified, who could not attend. Potential mentors were allowed a month to reflect on their roles and responsibilities, before committing themselves to be mentors.

At this stage, it was decided that the mentor group from the Support Services, comprising nine staff members, would undergo separate mentor training, as they needed job specific mentoring skills, i.e. electrical, plumbing, airconditioning, etc.

Step 7: After discussions with line managers, heads of department, supervisors and mentors, 14 mentees were nominated, of which six were from one department.

Step 8: An interactive mentee training workshop was held on 2 October 2004, with the aim of providing guidelines for a mentor-mentee relationship.

Step 9: After discussions with mentors, mentees were assigned to them, according to the specific skills needed and offered. Although this was not the intention, some pairs are inter-departmental, but none are multi-cultural or cross-gender.

Step 10: A combined mentor-mentee workshop was conducted on 13 November 2003. Each participant was handed a file with notes and suggestions for compiling a portfolio of their progress. All pairs had to meet at least once before the start of the pilot programme on 1 February 2004. The programme coordinator phoned to check this.
Support staff: Support staff, who needed specific skills for mentoring in electrical learnerships, underwent accredited training during November 2003. Generic mentor training for this group took place during February 2004, in collaboration with the Institute of Electricians.

The pilot programme commenced at the beginning of February 2004 and ended on 30 June 2004. In all, nine departments participated. Results of the final assessment still have to be processed.


The mentoring programme should form part of the already existing induction programme for newly appointed staff, and it should last for the full probation period. Existing staff who are not performing to their full potential, should also be included in the programme. During the progress of the programme, some lessons were learned, among others, the following:

  • No mentor should be forced to become involved.

  • Buy-in of senior management is crucial. They should be seen to be involved.

  • It seems that staff will get involved if they are rewarded: What’s in it for me? (e.g. a performance bonus). Rewards do not have to be tangible, as long as mentors are formally recognized by the institution for making a commitment to contribute to fellow staffs’ professional development.

  • Mentors prefer to select their own mentees. This selection should be made with great care. Some newly appointed employees might not want to be mentored, while supervisors in a mentoring role might feel threatened by the progress of their mentees. A mentor should also not be a ‘tormentor’.

  • Some staff members are natural mentors.

  • If possible, training should be credit bearing.

  • Training should be integrated with the institution’s Human Resources Development Policy.

  • The programme should be linked to a performance appraisal system.

  • Functions, roles and responsibilities of all parties concerned should be clear. Basic ground rules should be explained and understood.

  • The programme must be organised well.

  • Ownership of the process by all stakeholders is crucial. Clear information should be provided to line management, and they should be congratulated on the involvement of their staff.

It is hoped that by sharing the above, some advice can be offered to institutions planning to implement a similar programme.


Within the context of the imminent incorporation of RAU with the Soweto and East Rand VISTA University campuses (2004) and the merger with Technikon Witwatersrand (2005), it is crucial that the mentoring programme should be implemented as a matter of urgency. It is hoped that the piloting of the mentoring programme for non-lecturing and support staff will inspire the professional (academic) component of the University’s staff to follow suit. Clearly, there are potential problems and some pitfalls will most definitely be experienced, as has indeed already occurred. As this is ground breaking research, many interesting research projects will hopefully flow from it.


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Daniels D 2001. Transformation and the black academic. Aambeeld, November 2001. Johannesburg: Rand Afrikaans University.

Geber HM (Forthcoming) 2004. Testing a model of mentor roles and functions in cross-cultural mentoring relationships: Early career academics at a South African university” in Kochan F & Pascarelli J. Global Perspectives of Reconstructing Context, Learning Communities and Cultures through Mentoring. Information Age Publishing.

Johnson KF 2002. Being an effective mentor: How to help beginning teachers succeed. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, Inc.

Lacey L 1999. In Chesterman C 2001. Mentoring: ACU Women and Management.RMIT University.

Landsberg M 1996. The TAO of Coaching: The GROW model. Harper Collins.

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McKenzie, B. 1995. Friends in High Places: How to achieve your ambitions, goals and potential with the help of a mentor. Business & Professional Publishing, Australia.

Peer Resources – Nurturing the Mentor in You Survey 2003. Navigation Tools for the Heart, Mind and Soul. (2003/05/29)

Potgieter C. 2003. Die rasse-skoen knyp nog , in Van Eeden, J, Rapport, 25 Mei 2003.

Powell, N J 1999.Mentoring: One of the Master’s Tools, in Initiatives on mentoring, readings from the Journal of NAWE, Advancing Women in Higher Education, Waschington DC.

Rautenbach I M 2002. Die moontlikheid om elemente van die Sertifikaat in Regsonderrig vir ‘n bekendstellingsprogram van nuwe aanstellings aan RAU te gebruik. Mentorskapwerkswinkel, 12 Augustus 2002. Johannesburg: Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit.

Sander H 2002. Proposed mentorship programme for Library and Information Services. Johannesburg: Rand Afrikaans University.

Sharpnack R 2000-2001. Women Leading Change. Elmhurst College: Centre for Professional Excellence.

Technikon Southern Africa Policy Document 2002. Johannesburg: TSA.

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