21 September 2021 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo 3T Photography
The new US Consul General, Vincent Spera, recently visited the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. He was hosted by the Office for International Affairs. Pictured here are Cornelius Hagenmeier, Dr Dionne van Reenen, and Vincent Spera.

Vincent Spera, the new US Consul General, paid a courtesy visit to the University of the Free State (UFS) on 16 September 2021, where he was hosted by the Office for International Affairs on the Bloemfontein Campus.

The aim of his visit was to strengthen relationships with the UFS. The university has a rich academic collaboration with US higher education institutions, as evidenced by the 313 co-authored papers published by UFS authors with collaborators at 291 institutions in the United States (US) between 2018 and 2020.

In the past eight years, close to 150 international students from the US – from postdoctoral fellows up to undergraduate level – studied at the UFS. The UFS is also home to more than 30 research fellows from the US. 

Cornelius Hagenmeier, Director of the UFS Office for International Affairs, says he would like every student to have an international experience. “I believe it is doable. Through virtual exchanges, curriculum internationalisation, and internationalisation at home, we can make this happen,” he says. 

Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research, emphasised the importance of US collaborations for the university. She appreciates the support afforded by the US Consulate for the manifold collaborative activities connecting the UFS with the US. 

A number of UFS researchers who is collaborating with the US on certain projects interacted with Spera during his visit. 

USDP Programme

According to Prof Corlia Janse van Vuuren, Head: UFS School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the Faculty of Health Sciences’ biggest academic collaboration with US higher education institutions is through the University Staff Development Programme (USDP).

She says: “The USDP is an enriching journey for the group of UFS academic staff members who participate as PhD candidates in this initiative. The international connection with the University of Virginia (UVA), where mentors are assigned to most of the PhD candidates, is raising the quality of the qualification.”

This doctoral training programme supports the doctoral degree studies of a cohort of six academics from the UFS and five from the University of Venda (Univen) in the field of global health. The group of PhD candidates are from different disciplines in health sciences, including Anaesthesiology, Orthopaedics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, as well as Occupational Therapy in the Allied Health Sciences. One of the candidates completed his studies and is working with UVA on a number of publications; the rest of the candidates will complete their studies in 2022 and 2023. 

“These doctoral candidates are also very much involved in student training as well as medical specialist training. This increases the quality of our medical specialist training in the faculty. Undergraduate student training also indirectly benefits from this initiative,” she adds.

Dr Gray Magaiza, Acting Assistant Vice-Dean and Programme Director in the Department of Sociology on the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, is in agreement about the value of the USDP programme. He himself received his PhD qualification through the programme. 

US Consul General, Vincent Spera, and Prof Corli Witthuhn, , Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and
Internationalisation. (Photo: 3T Photography)

“The programme opened many doors for me. It was one of the best experiences I ever had, especially the support I received in completing my studies. The quality sought by US supervisors are also quite high,” he says. 

Spera says it is wonderful to hear about the collaborations taking place. “It is through these partnerships that connections between South Africans and Americans are allowed to grow exponentially.”

“PhD development is critical, and we want to increase the number of PhD graduates, particularly staff members with PhD qualifications. We appreciate the collaboration with the US in research and capacity development, which together with internalisation are high priorities,” Hagenmeier says.

Fulbright Scholarships

Prof Lynette Jacobs, Head of Research on the UFS South Campus, acknowledged the contribution that the Fulbright programme has made to the UFS South Campus. Four years ago, the visit of one Fulbright scholar, Prof Barbara Howard from the Appalachian State University, evolved to a long-term commitment from individuals and the institution to continue working on intercultural and international projects, as well as research collaborations. 

Together with academics from Novgorod State University in Russia, Prof Jacobs and Prof Howard are collaborating on the development of virtual capacity building programmes, specifically to support internationalisation. The courses include international cross-cultural communication skills, leadership in virtual international teams, sustainable development, and using technology meaningfully in a virtual international space. 

“This is a wonderful testament to not letting ourselves get fixed to one kind of thinking. It does not always have to be the five-year PhD or two-year academic Fulbright programme, but there are all sorts of models that can make a difference,” responds Spera.

Guided by Dr Dionne van Reenen, Senior Researcher in the Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice, Spera undertook a walking tour of the UFS Centenary Complex and the Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice. He appreciated the information shared about the UFS transformation process, and the collaboration between the US and the unit. 

According to Mbali Moiketsi, Study Abroad coordinator, the US consulate has supported and offered guidance to UFS students and staff to pursue study abroad opportunities with the assistance of International Affairs. 

Recently, the university had two recipients of the Fulbright foreign student scholarship and has to date hosted three Fulbright visiting scholars. These recipients have contributed to the growth of the partnership and has increased relations with universities in the US. The partnership is set to continue, offering broad opportunities for the UFS staff and students. 

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.