UFS Accounting students win Project Alpha competition

At the Ernst & Young Project Alpha 2019 Awards, some of the members of the winning team, from left: Kyle du Bruyn, Luke Rhode, Janri du Toit, Nicolaas van Zyl, Mojalefa Mosala (Business Ethics Lecturer), Bianca Malan, Lorandi Koegelenberg and Frans Benecke. Photo: Supplied

A few years ago the news was saturated with Volkswagen’s (VW) fuel emission scandal. “Dieselgate”. Investigations in the US found the German automaker guilty of programming computers in their diesel cars to alter its engine operations to seemingly meet legal emission standards.

A notice of violation of the Clean Air Act issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency had dire consequences for the automobile company, but positive implications for the economy and the environment. As part of a lawsuit settlement, vehicles were recalled, fines were paid, and approximately 21 million affected vehicles with VW diesel engines were refitted by September 2015.

A group of eight students from the University of the Free State (UFS) presented their case study of “Dieselgate” to a panel of judges in this year’s Ernst & Young Project Alpha competition. They emerged as the ultimate winners.

The “Hoaxwagen” group’s 10-minute video demonstrated “a critical assessment of a multidimensional matter” ‑ captivating the judges. “I was impressed, because their presentation addressed other skills such as the ability to present, communicate, come out of their comfort zone and be innovative, while at the same time addressing an ethical issue,” said Mojalefa Mosala, a judge and Business Ethics lecturer at the UFS.

The UFS is the first university outside of Johannesburg that participated in the Project Alpha contest. Ernst & Young and the UFS have forged a strong relationship over the past few years, giving students a glimpse into the corporate world of accounting.

“Project Alpha encourages critical thinking and not taking things at face value, by looking a bit deeper, spending time to understand the pros and cons of any situation in order to make an informed decision,” said Frans Benecke, member of the winning team that prevailed over 82 others. Benecke’s team walked away with R2000 shopping vouchers and a life-long learning experience.

Participation in the competition gave students the opportunity to be exposed to contemporary global thinking, which is strongly advocated in the UFS’s Integrated Transformation Plan.