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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Inaugural lecture: Prof. Annette Wilkinson
2008-04-16

A strong plea for a pursuit of “scholarship” in higher education

Prof. Annette Wilkinson of the Centre for Higher Education Studies and Development in the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of the Free State (UFS) made as strong plea for a pursuit of “scholarship” in higher education.

She said in her inaugural lecture that higher education has to deal with changes and demands that necessitate innovative approaches and creative thinking when it concerns effective teaching and learning in a challenging and demanding higher education environment. She referred to a recent research report prepared for the Council for Higher Education (CHE) which spells out the alarming situation regarding attrition rates and graduation output in South African higher education and emphasises factors leading to the situation. These factors include socio-economic conditions and shortcomings in the school and the subsequent under preparedness of a very large proportion of the current student population. However, what is regarded as one of the key factors within the sector’s control is the implementation of strategies for improving graduate output.

She said: “The CHE report expresses concern about academics’ adherence to traditional teaching practices at institutions, which have not changed significantly to make provision for the dramatic increase in diversity since the 1980s.

“Raising the profile of teaching and learning in terms of accountability, recognition and scholarship is essential for successful capacity-building,” she said. “The notion of scholarship, however, brings to the minds of many academics the burden of ‘publish or perish’. In many instances, the pressures to be research-active are draining the value put on teaching. Institutions demand that staff produce research outputs in order to qualify for any of the so-called three Rs – resources, rewards and recognition.

“These have been abundant for research, but scarce when it comes to teaching – with the status of the latter just not on the same level as that of research. From within their demanding teaching environments many lecturers just feel they do not have the time to spend on research because of heavy workloads, that their efforts are under-valued and that they have to strive on the basis of intrinsic rewards.”

She said: “It is an unfortunate situation that educational expertise, in particular on disciplinary level, is not valued, even though in most courses, as in the Programme in Higher Education Studies at the UFS, all applications, whether in assignments, projects or learning material design, are directly applied to the disciplinary context. We work in a challenging environment where the important task of preparing students for tomorrow requires advanced disciplinary together with pedagogical knowledge.”

Prof. Wilkinson argued that a pursuit of the scholarship of teaching and learning holds the potential of not only improving teaching and learning and consequently success rates of students, but also of raising the status of teaching and recognising the immense inputs of lecturers who excel in a very demanding environment. She emphasised that not all teaching staff will progress to the scholarship level or are interested in such an endeavour. She therefore suggested a model in which performance in the area of teaching and learning can be recognised, rewarded and equally valued on three distinct levels, namely the levels of excellence, expertise and scholarship. An important feature of the model is that staff in managerial, administrative and support posts can also be rewarded for their contributions on the different levels for all teaching related work.

Prof. Wilkinson also emphasised the responsibility or rather, accountability, of institutions as a whole, as well as individual staff members, in providing an environment and infrastructure where students can develop to their full potential. She said that in this environment the development of the proficiency of staff members towards the levels of excellence, expertise and scholarship must be regarded as a priority.

“If we want to improve students’ success rates the institution should not be satisfied with the involvement in professional development opportunities by a small minority, but should set it as a requirement for all teaching staff, in particular on entry into the profession and for promotion purposes. An innovative approach towards a system of continuous professional development, valued and sought after, should be considered and built into the institutional performance management system.”

As an example of what can be achieved, Prof. Wilkinson highlighted the work of one of the most successful student support programmes at the UFS, namely the Career Preparation Programme (CPP), implemented fourteen years ago, bringing opportunities to thousands of students without matric exemption. The programme is characterised by dedicated staff, a challenging resource-based approach and foundational courses addressing various forms of under preparedness. Since 1993 3 422 students gained entry into UFS degree programmes after successfully completing the CPP; since 1996 1 014 of these students obtained their degrees, 95 got their honours degrees, 18 their master’s degrees and six successfully completed their studies as medical doctors.

Prof. Wilkinson said: “I believe we have the structures and the potential to become a leading teaching-learning university and region, where excellence, expertise and scholarship are recognised, honoured and rewarded.”

 

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