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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

UFS leads the way with GMO testing
2003-08-25

A formal agreement linking Africa’s first testing facility for genetically modified organisms (GMO) to an international organization was signed at the University of the Free State.

According to the manager of the GMO testing facility, Dr Chris Viljoen of the Department of Plant Sciences, the facility is now part of GeneScan, a world leader in food diagnostic testing, which has its headquarters in Germany with subsidiaries in the Unites States, Brazil and Hong Kong.

The facility at the UFS has been selected by the second largest international food company to do all its South African GMO testing for export products.

The GMO testing facility is the brainchild of Dr Viljoen, who is a specialist in the field of marker biotechnology and its applications in crop science.

He says the need for such a testing facility arose due to the international regulations on GMOs in food, especially Europe and Asia that requires South African exporters to certify whether their products contain any GMO.

“The regulations in Europe and Asia reflect a consumer need for choice in what they eat due to concerns over the safety of GMOs, as well as environmental and ethical issues. GMO testing and labelling allow consumers the right of choice to eat genetically modified foods or not. According to EU regulations, any product with a GMO content of 1% or higher is labelled as containing GMO.”

According to Dr Viljoen only four products in South Africa are currently GMO. They are white and yellow maize that have been made insect resistant, soya bean that is herbicide tolerant and insect resistant cotton. He says that the awareness of GMOs among South Africans is still very limited, especially in poorer communities, but it is likely to increase with the efforts being made in consumer education by government, seed companies and NGOs.

The testing facility has been established to accommodate the local as well as international market. The GMO testing at the UFS facility is performed using real time PCR, the most advanced means of GMO detection currently available, and using GeneScan developed technology that is recognized worldwide.
 

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