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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 alumnus receives PhD in Statistics from the University of Oxford
2016-06-03

Description: DW Bester  Tags: DW Bester

In May of this year, DW Bester obtained
a DPhil in Statistics at the University of
Oxford.
Photo: Supplied

On 14 May this year, Dr DW Bester received a DPhil in Statistics from the University of Oxford. The entire ceremony, which was held in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, was conducted in Latin, as has been the case for the past 800 years.

Dr Bester completed his undergraduate studies and his honours degree at the University of the Free State (UFS). “At first, I was only planning to study for a master’s degree, but was privileged to get an opportunity to do a PhD as well. I didn’t think twice!” he says.

Studies at the University of Oxford


Universities in England do not require a master’s degree for PhD studies. With the help of Prof Max Finkelstein from the UFS Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science, Dr Bester registered for the DPhil programme in Statistics directly after his honours studies.

“The title of my thesis was: Joint survival models: A Bayesian investigation of longitudinal volatility. It dealt with a problem in the medical field to determine the cause of stroke risk: is it the absolute level of blood pressure, or the volatility thereof? The analysis of this question led to interesting models which needed advanced application techniques. I had to study these techniques and write programmes for their application.

Although Dr Bester is working currently as the technical head of a company that calculates insurance for power stations, satellites, rockets, and cyber risks, he would like to continue working with his Oxford supervisor in future to make the techniques they have developed more accessible for researchers outside of the field of statistics.
 
“Studying at Oxford requires hard work, perseverance, and a lot of luck. Luck plays a big role, since there are no guarantees that hard work will ensure you a spot in one of the top universities.

Regarding his studies at Oxford, Dr Bester thinks back on his exposure to the GNU/Linux operating system, and free software. “I have seen how valuable this is for analyses in practice. I also had the privilege of meeting the father of free software, Richard Stallman,” Dr Bester says.

2011 Rhodes Scholar

He was elected as Rhodes Scholar in 2011. According to Dr Bester, who has been interested in Mathematics since high school, the Rhodes scholarship was something of a fluke. He applied for the Rhodes scholarship on the recommendation of Prof Robert Schall of the Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science.

Role of the UFS in his successes


In addition to the continued support from the team of passionate professors and lecturers at the UFS, the actuarial degree at the UFS is fraught with statistics. Emphasis is also placed on Bayesian statistics. This was crucial to his studies at Oxford. According to Dr Bester, this topic is emphasised strongly in the international statistics community.

Dr Bester regards the work done by two of his lecturers, Michael von Maltitz and Sean van der Merwe, among his highlights at the UFS. Since our first year, they have created an atmosphere of camaraderie among the students. “I think this contributed to the success of everybody. They also make an effort to present topics outside of the syllabus regularly,” says Bester.

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