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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 professor addresses genetically modified food in South Africa in inaugural lecture
2016-09-23

Description: Chris Viljoen inaugural lecture Tags: Chris Viljoen inaugural lecture

At the inaugural lecture were, from the left front,
Prof Lis Lange, Vice Rector: Academic;
Prof Chris Viljoen; Prof Gert van Zyl,
Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences; back: Prof Marius Coetzee,
Head of Department of Haematology and Cell Biology;
and Dr Lynette van der Merwe, Undergraduate
Programme Director.
Photo: Stephen Collett

The first genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa were planted in 1998. Eighteen years later, the country is one of the largest producers of GM food in the world. Those in support of genetically modified crops say this process is the only way to feed a rapidly growing world population. But those who criticise GM food describe it as a threat to the environment and safety of the population. Who is right? According to Prof Chris Viljoen of the Department of Haematology and Cell Biology at the University of the Free State, neither position is well-founded.

GM crops play a vital role in food security

While GM crops have an important role to play in increasing food production, the technology is only part of the solution to providing sufficient food for a growing world population. The major genetically modified crops produced in the world include soybean, cotton, maize and canola. However, the authenticity of food labelling and the long-term safety of GM food are issues that consumers are concerned about.

Safety and labelling of GM food important in South Africa
In his inaugural lecture on the subject “Are you really going to eat that?” Prof Viljoen addressed the importance of the safety and labelling of GM food in the country. “In order for food to be sustainable, production needs to be economically and environmentally sustainable. On the other hand, food integrity, including food quality, authenticity and safety need to be ensured,” Prof Viljoen said. 

Labelling of food products for genetic modification was mandatory in South Africa, he went on to say. “It allows consumers the right of choice whether to eat genetically modified foods or not.” The Consumer Protection Act of 2008 requires food ingredients containing more than 5% of GM content to be labelled. 

GMO Testing Facility world leader in food diagnostic testing
In 1999, Prof Viljoen spearheaded research in developing a GM diagnostic testing platform, and in 2003, a commercial diagnostic platform for GM status certification, called the GMO Testing Facility, was founded. The facility is a licensed Eurofins GeneScan laboratory   a world leader in food diagnostic testing   and provides diagnostic detection and quantification of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in grain and processed foods for the local and international market.

Molecular diagnostic technology the future of food integrity, authenticity and safety
With GM labelling now well-established in South Africa, the next challenge is to establish the use of molecular diagnostic technology to ensure that food integrity, including food authenticity and safety is maintained, said Prof Viljoen.

“To the question ‘Are you really going to eat that?’ the answer is ‘yes’, but let’s continue doing research to make sure that what we eat is safe and authentic.”

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