18 November 2020 | Story Thabo Kessah | Photo Thabo Kessah
Prof Pearl Sithole acknowledged the role played by the Afromontane Research Unit in securing mountain-to-mountain research funding from the US Embassy and Consulates in SA.

“This launch is an opportunity to reflect on the strategic significance of the partnership between our two universities and the long-standing relationship that academics at the two institutions have enjoyed.” 

These were the words of appreciation from the University of the Free State Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Internationalisation, Prof Corli Witthuhn, during the virtual launch of the Mountain-to-Mountain collaboration project between the University of the Free State and the Appalachian State University in the United States held on 10 November 2020. The R8 million project is funded by the US Embassy and Consulates in South Africa and will run over two academic years.

Prof Witthuhn also stated that the project would further strengthen the UFS strategy for internationalisation. “This collaboration has grown organically in the last decade to become one of the UFS flagships in international collaborations. With the support of this grant from the US Embassy and Consulates in South Africa, this long-standing and sustainable collaboration will be further strengthened,” she added.

New master’s programmes

In providing context to the Qwaqwa Campus’ research footprint, Campus Vice-Principal: Academic and Research, Prof Pearl Sithole, acknowledged the role played by the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) under the leadership of its Director, Dr Ralph Clark, as well as all the faculties.

“In the Humanities, a lot is coming regarding the socio-ecosystems of the mountains. And in Education and Economic and Management Sciences, the scholarship of teaching and learning is promoted through blended skills, especially during this time of the pandemic. In the Natural and Agricultural Sciences, climate monitoring is one of the projects that has brought vibrancy to our campus,” she said.

Appalachian State University’s Associate Vice-Chancellor for International Education and Development, Prof Jesse Lutabingwa, mentioned that the collaboration would, among others, develop and offer a multi-disciplinary master’s degree in Mountain Studies on the Qwaqwa Campus, which will initially enrol seven to ten students. “In the subsequent years, we plan to increase this number to 15-20 students. We will also develop and offer a Community Development master’s degree with 10-12 students and up to 25 in subsequent years.”

Black women academics

Prof Lutabingwa, who is also the Project Director, revealed that doctoral students who are currently part of the University Staff Doctoral Project (USDP), will conduct at least three research projects focusing on social entrepreneurship, substance abuse, and rural transport monitoring in the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains. “Also key to this collaboration is the leadership mentorship programme for black women academics who will at the end of the project produce three to five research papers,” Prof Lutabingwa added.

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