Projects 2015


Research Proposal:

I would like to centre the discussions in the Student Critical Theory Group and the Youth Forum on student participation and non-participation at the university.

Research questions:

  1. Is the lack of student participation in dialogues, class or university activities a problem at the University of the Free State?
  2. What are the reasons students give for self-imposed exclusion?
  3. How effective is dialogue and participation for knowledge construction?
  4. Do students see a need for alternatives to dialogue, teaching or learning?

Lecturers have long complained about the lack of student participation both in the lecture room and in out-of-class activities. Many have waited in vain for the engaged class debate, the insightful opinions of budding academics, and the mass attendance at the guest lecture one is excited about. Many staff members have speculated about such students: they are more interested in social media and cell phone chats than what is happening in their courses; they are resistant to learning or mistrusting of staff or fellow students; they are insufficiently prepared by an ailing school system; they do not care about higher education or they take it for granted, and so on. Indeed, some of these observations may be the case, but there may be other reasons for this apparent self-exclusion.

I would like to implement an investigation into the emphasis on dialogue in the learning process itself. The discussion groups will be given questionnaires in which students can answer in their own words why they do not participate. I will evaluate various aspects of these unframed answers, such as an evaluation of the discussion leader; an evaluation of the discussion process itself; engagement of the student; how the discussion may have changed the way the student may be thinking about the topic; what kinds of things make impressions on students; which questions cause the most (dis)interest; what students learn in discussions; questioning assumptions and arguments.

These questions will be open-ended to allow the students to frame or evaluate their own participation with as little input from discussion leaders as possible. Institute students will be asked to identify and recruit non-participating students and bring them to the discussion group. They will be debriefed in the Student Critical Theory group.

The information gathered from the groups and questionnaires will be used to formulate research for a paper to be jointly written with one student assistant.

Research Questionnaire

Dionne van

Human Rights and Citizenship Framings in HEI

This research project will explore: how students and staff frame the notions of  human rights and citizenship pre-theoretically and theoretically; how such framings have an impact on the university’s transformation agenda; and in which ways citizenship and human rights activism can be reconstituted within university spaces. This exploration will assist the research team to inquire into intuitive human rights and citizenship expressions within social reality. According to the project leader, Prof André Keet, an analysis of these intuitive understandings will better link the abstracted notions of rights and citizenship with an activism that may already be rooted in pre-theoretical experiences. Apart from its broader intellectual contribution, such systematised observations will serve the strategies and activities that the university will employ in its pursuit to develop a culture of human rights and inclusive citizenship.

Prof André Keet
Dr Willy Nel

Pedagogies to Advance Capabilities

In March 2013, Profs Melanie Walker and André Keet invited eight UFS academics to participate in a two-year (2013-2014) collaborative, three-country (SA – UFS and UWC, the Netherlands, Cyprus) research project on universities as ‘spaces for social justice’: Pedagogies to advance capabilities. The project aim is to work with university practitioner-researchers to investigate the university as a ‘space of justice’ that advances the capabilities and valuable functionings of all students through curriculum and pedagogical arrangements.

The following research questions steer the project:

•    How do I/we understand social justice and critical, compassionate citizenship?
•    What contribution does curriculum and pedagogy make to advancing social justice in [my/our] higher-education classrooms?
•    How can we, as a collective of university teachers and higher-education researchers, work together to generate and operationalise a [capabilities-friendly] framework of social justice?
•    How can I/we understand the opportunities, obstacles, and achievements in working pedagogically for social justice in my/our university classrooms?
•    How can comparative sites of inquiry generate a robust meta-analysis of working pedagogically for social justice in university classrooms?

The project is on-going and also includes an ‘advocacy’ dimension aiming at raising awareness about the need to continuously reflect on, and improve, pedagogical practices as one of the major leverage points for real transformation. Students and staff are welcome to share their practices and concerns with us.

Prof Melanie Walker
Prof André Keet


The institute is currently working on a number of research projects independently and in collaboration with a number of national and international partners.

Reitz Research Project

The first journal article on this project has been completed and submitted and the digital archive is functional, populated and is continuously developing. An occasional paper on ''Living with difference: Mapping ‘Reitz’, the meaning of ‘Reitz’" has been finalised.

Reconciled Diversity: Young South Africans in Conversation with Allan Boesak

This book publication will be the result of a series of conversations with students from diverse backgrounds under the theme ‘Reconciled Diversity.’  The conversations took place over a period of six months and were facilitated by Dr Allan Boesak.

Social Cohesion Comparative Study

Inter-disciplinary comparative study on Social Cohesion involving the Dihlabeng Municipality (Eastern Free State) and the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation Process (Western Cape).

Curriculum as Discourse

NRF-funded inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional national research project committed to the broader project of transformation in higher education, exploring curriculum practices and content as well as the disciplinary traditions in six selected fields of study.

Dignity and Difference

International comparative study on ‘Dignity and Difference’ in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society in Bangalore, India, and the Kosmopolis Institute in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Humanising Pedagogy

A planned large-scale empirical study on the theme of Rights, Citizenship and Social Cohesion/Justice in collaboration with NMMU and partners in the United States.

Diversity in Higher Education

Funded project on Higher Education in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles, VU Amsterdam, the UFS and North-West University.

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