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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 hones focus to nurture world-class research - Business Day
2006-02-10

 

Sue Blaine
THE University of the Free State plans to concentrate academic study in five areas to strengthen its status as a research institution, the university said yesterday.

The Bloemfontein-based university will focus on areas it classes as development (economics, health, literacy and other human activities) and social transformation — an analysis of how South African society is changing from a philosophical and political viewpoint.

The other three research areas are new technologies, water resources and security, and food production and security.

“It makes sense to concentrate the university’s human resources, infrastructure, financial resources and intellectual expertise,” said university rector and vice-chancellor Prof Frederick Fourie.

The move introduces a style of research that matches international trends.

Universities in Canada, Britain and Australia are setting up their research departments in this way.

In SA, the universities of Stellenbosch, the Witwatersrand, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal have embarked on similar strategies.

Fourie gave the example of his alma mater, the US’s Harvard University, whose Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centre is an example of “clustering” on a larger scale.

The centre is a collaboration with Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Museum of Science, Boston, and universities in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan.

Fourie said the modern research world was so diverse and complex that no university could cover all bases so it was better to establish areas of expertise that made it different from its peer institutions.

Having scientists and researchers work in teams meant certain issues could be researched and developed in a multidisciplinary manner. “I think it’s the only way in which any university can excel. This will help SA become world class in selected areas,” Fourie said.

It is in chemistry that the cluster model has already had its most visible results, with a slice of the university’s on-campus pharmacological testing company Farmovs, established in the 1980s, sold to the US’s Parexel International.

The company is one of the largest biopharmaceutical outsourcing organisations in the world, providing knowledge-based contract research, medical marketing and consulting services to the global pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries, according to Biospace, an internet-based company providing resources and information to the life science industry.

President Thabo Mbeki, in his state of the nation address last Friday, committed government to allocating more resources to research, development and innovation, and increasing the pool of young researchers in SA.

He said government would “continue to engage the leadership of our tertiary institutions focused on working with them to meet the nation’s expectations with regard to teaching and research”.

The university used to be home to several A-rated scientists, who are considered by a peer review, conducted by the National Research Foundation, to be world leaders in their fields, but had lost them to other institutions. Fourie hopes to lure them back, and with them postgraduate students and funding for their work.

“At universities where you get a star researcher they tend to attract people and funding; if they leave they take that with them,” he said.

Fourie said R50m would be spent on the project, with some already spent last year and the last disbursements to be made next year.

There is R10m in seed money to gather experts and improve equipment and infrastructure, and R17m has been invested in chemistry equipment and staff.

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