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02 May 2018 Photo Charl Devenish
South Campus UAP celebrates 27 years of access to education
Mr Francois Marais, Prof Kalie Strydom, Prof Daniella Coetzee (South Campus Principal), Prof Francis Petersen, Dr Nthabeleng Rammile (Vice-Chairperson of the UFS Council), and Dr Khotso Mokhele (Chancellor of the UFS).

More than 27 years ago, international funding from the Human Sciences Research Council and Anglo American was put to an unusual use for that time. Prof Kalie Strydom’s research unit at the University of the Free State (UFS) was tasked with reviewing how institutional missions would change in the new South Africa. Prof Strydom worked closely with surrounding communities in Bloemfontein to develop a bridging course which would help students who showed potential to access tertiary education, although they did not meet the requirements. His vision brought to birth the University Access Programme (UAP), as it is known today, which is hosted on the UFS South Campus, and is still providing unique access to higher-education institutions in South Africa.

People with a passion for human development
March 2018 saw the 27th anniversary of this remarkable initiative, which has given a second chance to over 18 000 students. Special guests at the event included Prof Strydom, Mr Francois Marais, and representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training and Investec’s corporate social investment office.

Dr Sonja Loots, researcher in the UFS Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), singled out two key individuals in the formation of the UAP: Prof Kalie Strydom, who initiated the programme, and Mr Marais, who has been Director of the UAP since its inception. Dr Loots highlighted one of the driving forces behind Prof Strydom’s perseverance, vision, and determination with the UAP by quoting from an interview with him for an upcoming book on student access and success. He said, “It was a decision based on principle … to be part of the solution to a better country.”

Access and success still an issue today
In his presentation on the “Importance of Access”, Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, pointed out the vital role of access in South Africa, especially the value it offers for the betterment of the country’s people. However, he said that student success is also an issue, and institutions need to be accountable for it. Quoting Prof John Martin of the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Engineering, “We must be flexible on access, but robust on success.” Only by “closing the loop” in this way, can the UFS and other higher-education institutions ensure a valuable contribution to the economy of the country.

News Archive

Researcher takes home gold at international Famelab competition
2017-06-26

Description: Famelab competition Tags: Famelab competition

UFS researcher nabbed a top international award for
her ground-breaking metallurgical research in the UK.
Photo: Supplied

Recently, University of the Free State (UFS) Centre for Environmental Management master’s student, Tshiamo Legoale, was announced the FameLab International champion at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom. She is probing methods to use wheat as a gold hyper-accumulator – or, as she puts it, “grow gold from wheat”. The young researcher made South Africa proud by winning both the audience’s and the judges’ vote.

Coming back home a hero
“Winning was a surprise to me, because all 31 contestants had wonderful research. They all had really good presentations. I’m very grateful for all the support that I received from home. Social media showed me a lot of love and support. When I felt unconfident, they gave me ‘likes’ and that boosted my confidence a bit,” said Legoale about her win.

As South Africa celebrates Youth Month in June, Tshiamo represents hope for thousands of young South Africans to overcome difficult circumstances and follow careers in science.

The human impact is crucial, because Legoale’s win is not only scientific. It is also social and political. As a young female scientist in South Africa, she represented one of three African countries making it to the finals of FameLab, which has grown to one of the largest science communication competitions internationally.

With this in mind, Legoale says it may, in the end, be necessary to balance the needs of communities with the desire to increase yield. “Are we looking to make a fortune or are we looking to put food on the table?” she asks. “These are all things we consider when we conduct such research.”

World-class research from Africa
In South Africa, an estimated 17.7 million tons of gold is wasted. “All this gold was mined out previously, but tiny amounts remain in the dumps,” Legoale explains.

Her research focuses on the uses of wheat as a gold hyper-accumulator, which essentially means wheat plants are used to harvest gold from mine dumps. Simply put, the wheat is planted in the dumps, where enzymes found in the roots react with the gold and the plant absorbs it. The gold is then absorbed by every part of the plant, except the seeds, which means the next harvest can be used for food if need be.

“South Africa's world-champion young scientist, Tshiamo, represents all that is good about this country – brilliant, bright, and set for a fine future. I'm so proud that British Council SA, together with our partners SAASTA and Jive Media Africa, can help her along the way. Huge congratulations to her from all of us – it is a big win for Africa on the world stage,” said Colm McGivern, British Council South Africa Country Director.

The research represents a win on multiple levels. First, there are the obvious potential socio-economic benefits: food production, job creation, and phytomining is more economical than other contemporary mining methods.

Then there is safety. It is a more environmentally friendly practice than methods like heap leaching, carbon-in-leach or carbon-in-pulp. It is also safer for miners themselves, who will not be exposed to dangerous chemicals like mercury, which has been responsible for a great deal of toxicity in mine dumps. And it is safer for those living in the surrounds.

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