27 September 2023 | Story Prof Francois Strydom and Dr Sonja Loots | Photo Supplied
Prof Strydom and Sonia Sloot
Prof Francois Strydom and Dr Sonja Loots are among the individuals dedicated to making student success at the UFS a priority.

The University of the Free State (UFS) was recently recognised internationally for its exceptional work in promoting student success. This achievement was acknowledged in a publication featuring 31 other exemplary good practice institutions from 24 different countries, all dedicated to transforming students’ lives. The acknowledgement came as the UFS was nominated as an international case study showcasing best practices. The publication highlights how the UFS has significantly improved student success, bridged racial achievement gaps, and successfully implemented high-impact practices to support its students. 

The publication, titled "Transforming Lives at the Institutional Level: Equity Promotion Initiatives Across the World ", and edited by renowned higher education expert Jamil Salmi, aims to acknowledge global efforts in higher education that strive for equitable opportunities. The UFS was an integral part of this publication, with Dr Sonja Loots and Prof Francois Strydom collaborating with Dr Nasima Badsha, the former deputy director general. The UFS’ narrative underscores its transformation from a predominantly White, Afrikaans-speaking university in the late 1980s/early 1990s to a university that now predominantly serves black, first-generation students. Most of these students come from under-resourced schools. The UFS’ commitment to understanding its students and addressing their support needs, has been a significant contributor to the Siyaphumelela success story. The University’s active engagement in national and international knowledge exchange networks continues to shape its approach towards achieving student success.

The UFS was nominated through the Siyaphumelela Network, a project funded by the Kresge Foundation, of which the UFS has been part of since its inception in 2014. Participation in the Siyaphumelela Network has empowered the UFS to develop data analytics supporting student success, broaden the implementation of high-impact practices such as tutorials and the UFSS transitional module, and lead in the professional development of academic advising within the sector on a national platform. Additionally, the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) administers the South African Surveys of Student Engagement (SASSE), a crucial vehicle for student voice that informs institutional planning, practices, and change, utilised by 17 Siyaphumelela Network institutions. The Kresge Foundation has confirmed its commitment to continue supporting the Siyaphumelela Network for another three-year funding cycle, starting in 2024. 

Prof Strydom stated, “The inclusion of the UFS in this publication gives international recognition to the remarkable success story that the UFS has to tell. It further illustrates CTL’s commitment to Vision 130 for academic excellence, quality, research visibility, and impact that promotes social justice.”  

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