Latest News Archive

Please select Category, Year, and then Month to display items
Years
2017 2018 2019 2020
Previous Archive
17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

Food insecurity at university campuses under the spotlight
2015-08-20

 

"Food insecurity is   becoming an increasing problem at South African universities, much to the surprise of university managers." - Dr Louise van den Bergh, senior lecturer and researcher at our department of Nutrition and Dietetics

More than 70% of early university dropouts in the country were forced to abandon their tertiary studies because of food insecurity and financial need.

This was one of the conclusions drawn during the first higher education colloquium on food insecurity. The colloquium was hosted on by the University of the Free State (UFS) on the Bloemfontein Campus on 14 August 2015, where researchers from universities across the country shared their research about food insecurity on university campuses.

In South Africa, university campuses are not usually associated with food insecurity but, over the last few years, tertiary education has become more accessible to an increasing number of first-generation students and students from low-income households.

Some of the research indicated that students from lower-income households are often lacking financially, even with bursaries. The research has also shown that students frequently have to use part of their bursary money to support their families. This results in students not having enough money to buy food, which means they will do almost anything to get food.

A study by the UFS Department of Nutrition and Dietetics found that as many as 60% of our students are food insecure, and experience hunger frequently. This study was the first of its kind in South Africa. In 2011, the UFS launched the No Student Hungry Bursary Programme to provide food bursaries to food-insecure students.

At the opening of the colloquium, Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, said by helping students with a basic commodity like food, you give them much more than food; you give them humanity and dignity.

Dr Louise van den Bergh, senior lecturer and researcher in the UFS Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains that the problem is considerably more complex than just providing for students financially.

Dr Van den Bergh says that funders need to reassess bursaries, keeping issues such as food insecurity in mind, and not focusing just on tuition.

Research presented at the colloquium: (PDF's van die slides)

UFS Food environment and nutritional practices

UFS Skeleton in the University closet

UKZN Achieving food security

UKZN Food security and academic performance

UKZN Hunger for knowledge

UKZN Perceptions of food insecurity complexities

UW Food acquisition struggles

 

 

 

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.

Accept