08 January 2021 | Story Charlene Stanley | Photo Stephen Collett
Read More - Prof Melanie Walker in her office on the Bloemfontein Campus
Prof Melanie Walker has been awarded the NRF’s prestigious A1 rating for her research outputs in higher education and human development for the second time in a row.

“She has obtained the highest NRF rating possible and is clearly a world leader in her field.”  This is how Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research, describes Prof Melanie Walker, Distinguished Research Professor and National Research Foundation (NRF) Chair in Higher Education and Human Development, who has been awarded the NRF’s prestigious A1 rating for her highly acclaimed research outputs.

Exceptional NRF rating

An A1 rating is only given after an extremely rigorous evaluation process by international peer reviewers.  A researcher in this group is recognised by all reviewers as a leading scholar in his/her field internationally for the high quality and wide impact of his/her recent research outputs.

The rating is valid for a five-year period and is based primarily on research efforts over the past eight years. This is the second time Prof Walker has obtained an A1 rating.

 “We are very proud of her achievements,” says Prof Witthuhn. “She has done inspiring work in capacitating young UFS researchers and has mentored and supervised a number of first-class doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. She has had a significant impact on the standing and reputation of the UFS, both nationally and internationally. She really is outstanding.”

Collaboration is key 
Prof Walker sees this recognition by her national and international peers as a welcome affirmation of the quality of her research and its contribution to the field of education and development. She points out that collaboration has been a key driver in her research efforts.

“None of us gets to where we are without the support of many others. I have been fortunate to collaborate with generous and dynamic colleagues while in the UK and now in South Africa, and to always have the support of my partner, Ian Phimister,” says Prof Walker. This collaboration and support have enabled her to publish more than 200 books, book chapters, and articles and to participate in various funded research projects. She has also presented invited keynotes, as well as conference papers, in the UK, Europe, Australia, USA, Canada, Latin America, Taiwan, South Korea, and South Africa.

“Every such opportunity has been a highlight for my own learning and in building networks,” she says.

A key opportunity for her has been holding a SARChI chair since 2013, enabling her to work with early-career researchers and to build a dynamic young research group recognised internationally for its quality and contributions.  
“It has been a highlight to see so many of my doctoral students gain their degrees and then go on to publish their own monographs and take up academic positions in South Africa and abroad. My involvement with the Human Development and Capability Association, of which I am a fellow, has provided me with a stimulating intellectual ‘home’, which I continue to value highly,” she says.

Specific research interests
Prof Walker’s specific interest in educational research lies in how it can explore and reveal inequalities and opportunities in ways that might enable improved social justice in higher education settings, but also foster understanding of what higher education is for in relation to society. 
“In my view, gender and its intersections with race and class still demands closer attention in educational research, as well as issues around decoloniality and North-South knowledge-making relations. Here, creative participatory methods are promising for doing educational research in a different way,” she says. 

Pointers for aspiring researchers
Prof Walker advises younger researchers to begin mapping out a clear academic pathway from an early stage and to develop their own distinctive contribution. 
“Young scholars need to forge productive networks and to support each other generously. Above all, good educational research requires hard work and – in South Africa and Africa – commitments to the good of others, to social justice, and to public values.”

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