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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

“My time at the UFS was the golden gem of my career”
2016-07-04

Description: Zig Gibson Tags: Zig Gibson

Prof Alan St Clair Gibson
Photo: Oteng Mpete

“My time at the University of the Free State (UFS) was the golden gem of my career. I have worked at medical schools or biomedical research centres in the United Kingdom, United States and at some of the top medical schools in South Africa, but working at the UFS was one of the highlights of my career,” says Prof Alan St Clair Gibson, Head of the UFS School of Medicine.

After spending just over two years at the UFS, Prof St Clair Gibson resigned from the institution in June 2016 and will take up the position of Dean: Health and Human Performance Sciences at the Waikato University in New Zealand in mid-July, where he will assist to establish a new faculty for all the health-science disciplines. “It was a privilege to work at the UFS. I come from a strong research background and wanted to grow research at the university, which I achieved. I came to the UFS because of the Academic and Human Projects and am proud of what has been achieved at the School of Medicine during the time I was here,” he said.

Prof St Clair Gibson highlighted some of these achievements, including the development of a management infrastructure across the disciplines of the school. “The establishment of an executive management committee for the school, as well as research champions in departments, highlighted the importance of proper governance and strategic management. By developing data dashboards, my management team and I could develop an understanding of research income and productivity, how the school works, what the role of teaching and learning is, and how the school could benefit in terms of third-stream income from the many contracts obtained by its academic staff. As a result, contracts and the financial management model of the school have also been reconfigured to the benefit of the university so that the institution and school can benefit from it,” he said.

His strong belief in an open-door policy has made staff feel part of the environment and it has created an atmosphere of equality and inclusivity. He believes in staff development and has, for instance, established leadership and management courses for heads of departments. Another factor to be proud of is the increase in the number of young researchers who recently joined the school, such as Prof Ross Tucker, who is one of the foremost sport scientists in the country. “It is a fact that staff retire or resign in all schools and departments of any university. It is also true that these departures offer opportunities to bring new academic and professional staff into the UFS. In fact, for the first time virtually every department in the School of Medicine now has a full-time Head of Department and 46 new staff were appointed since January 2015,” said Prof St Clair Gibson.

“I am especially proud of contributing, together with the senior leadership of the UFS, to stabilise the relationship with the Free State Department of Health (DoH). With the assistance of these parties, as well as my executive management team, we could find a better way of working together to the benefit of the school and the province.’’

Transforming the student profile to be representative of the country’s demographics is another milestone Prof St Clair Gibson will remember. “The intake of black and white students is of such a nature that we now have a much more balanced ratio of black and white undergraduate students than before.”

“I wanted to stay longer to see the effect of all the changes I made at the school, but the deanship is an offer I cannot refuse. I would have liked to see a steadier increase in the number of permanent clinical staff and have worked hard with both the UFS management and the DoH to try and achieve that; but more work needs to be done.”

I have worked with a number of fantastic staff members at the school, who are determined to do good in a challenging environment. I am amazed at the energy of the university leadership and how the Human and Academic Projects are executed. My wish for the university is to maintain and grow its standards and for the School of Medicine to maintain its reputation as one of the best schools in the country. I will always be a proud alumnus of the UFS,” he said.

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