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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 doctors fight childhood cancer
2016-09-02

Description: Childhood cancer  Tags: Childhood cancer

Prof David Stones and Dr Jan du Plessis of the
University of Free State’s paediatric oncology ward
are helping little lives, one patient at a time.
Photo: Nonsindiso Qwabe

Of 23 paediatric oncology specialists nationally, Prof David Stones and Dr Jan du Plessis of the University of Free State are the only ones in the province.

Committed to giving holistic care to their patients, the two doctors specialise in all types of childhood cancers, the most common being leukaemia, brain tumour, and nephroblastoma.

They describe the childhood malignancy as a lethal disease, unpredictability being its harshest trait. “With cancer, you can just never know. It precipitates and multiplies, and leads to the failure of other organs. You can just always hope, and keep trying,” said Du Plessis.

The paediatric oncology unit of the Universitas Academic Hospital, their unit, is the liveliest floor in the entire building. It is also the third busiest in South Africa, serving a demographic that spans the Free State and Northern Cape, as well as parts of North West, Eastern Cape and Lesotho.

Each year, the unit receives more than 100 new childhood cancer patients. In 2015, the unit had 113 newly diagnosed patients, an increase from 93 in 2014.

Lack of knowledge poses a serious challenge
According to the two experts, the lack of insight and awareness of the disease remain a big challenge to fighting it. “It is frustrating. Parents and family members don’t know anything about it. Nurses and doctors aren’t always clinically trained to pick up the early warning signs. By the time a diagnosis is made, life and death is on a 50% margin,” Stones said.

Poverty, a lack of resources, overcrowding and a range of health issues are other factors that have a profound effect on the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Making a contribution that will last
With a desire to see an improvement on life outcomes in the health sector, the team is focusing on educating the country’s doctors of tomorrow. Their unit is the only one in the country that actively involves medical students in an oncology unit, giving them practical experience and exposure to the individual cases each patient presents. They have also produced a substantial amount of research literature on childhood malignancies in South Africa as a developing country.

Driven by passion to see a better South Africa
The doctors are passionate about the work they do, and remain hopeful there will be a change in the incidence of childhood cancer   not just in decreased levels of the disease, but also in the overall state of well-being of young South Africans.

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