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29 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Pexels
Prof Melanie Walker
Fostering human capabilities in universities may potentially transform education, says Prof Melanie Walker.

Education is at the centre of human life, and has the potential to be a crucial support for democratic life. Prof Melanie Walker’s recent research paper strikes a balance in dealing with people, education and the implications for democracy through the lens of human capabilities theory and practice and her own research.

People and papers

In her capacity as the SARChI Chair in the Higher Education and Human Development Research Programme at the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof Walker recently published a paper titled: Defending the Need for a Foundational Epistemic Capability in Education. It appeared in the special issue of the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities in honour of renowned Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s 85th birthday.

Nurturing epistemic justice

Within the context of existing literature such as that of Sen’s concern with the value of education on the one hand, and public reasoning on the other, Prof Walker argues for a foundational epistemic capability to shape the formal education landscape – as well as quality in education – by fostering inclusive public reasoning (including critical thinking) in all students. It would contribute to what Sen calls the ‘protective power of democracy’ and shared democratic rights, which, he argues, are strongly missed when most needed.

“Sen’s approach asks us to build democratic practices in our university and in our society in ways which create capabilities for everyone. If our students learn public reasoning in all sorts of spaces in university, including the pedagogical, they may carry this into and back to society,” she said.

Educating for equality

Empowering society and fighting for justice are some of the crucial contributions made possible through fostering the epistemic capability of all students. “The capability requires that each student is recognised as both a knower and teller, a receiver and a contributor in critical meaning and knowledge, and an epistemic agent in processes of learning and critical thinking,” states Prof Walker.

In a young democracy like South Africa’s, inclusive public reasoning becomes all the more essential in order to achieve equality, uphold rights and sustain democracy as enshrined in the constitution, thereby improving people’s lives. 

News Archive

UFS receives multimillion rand international funding for Advancement
2013-01-21

21 January 2013

We are one of four South African universities that have been selected to take part in a multimillion-rand programme to bolster private fund-raising and Advancement efforts.

The UFS will receive US$640 000 (R5 612 800) over a period of five years to use in advancement efforts.

In total, the US-based Kresge Foundation will make US$2.5 million available to the four universities, which includes the UFS, Durban University of Technology (DUT), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), over the next five years as part of a joint initiative with Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement, to support the long-term financial sustainability of higher education institutions in South Africa.

Kresge will also provide programmes and support aimed at enhancing student access to universities and improving graduation rates.

Bill Moses, who directs Kresge’s education programme, says declining government support means that South African university officials need to tap into diversified philanthropic and private funding if they want to enhance their institutions’ ability to serve students better. “Stronger Advancement skills are critical to their success and ultimately to getting more South African students into universities and completing degrees. Advancement is not just about raising funds. It is the practice of building, maintaining and improving support, skills and other resources to ensure the sustainability of an institution,” explains Moses.

 This latest Kresge initiative follows the success of a five-year partnership with Inyathelo that helped five high-profile South African institutions - the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits); the University of Pretoria (UP); the University of the Western Cape (UWC); the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the Children’s Hospital Trust - increase their private fund-raising revenue threefold. The four universities will receive additional funding over the next five years and will serve as mentors to the new group of institutions.

In April last year, Kresge announced a new commitment to South African higher education that builds on its efforts in the United States to improve university access and help students succeed academically. Their ‘Promoting access and success at South African universities’ programme will seek to strengthen pathways to and through universities, especially for students who are often unprepared for university study. Moses says enhancing the ability of universities in South Africa to graduate the next generation of knowledge workers, will make it possible for the country to compete more effectively in the global economy. “Access to higher education in South Africa has improved dramatically since the end of Apartheid. A doubling of enrolment since 1994 has, however, contributed to serious challenges, including under-prepared students and disappointing graduation rates. We are confident that our programme will help address some of these obstacles to success,” says Moses.

Kresge has already funded several efforts that support its interest in strengthening pathways to and through universities this year, including a grant to the University of the Free State to expand the South African Survey of Student Engagement, as well as funding to the University of Pretoria to support a conference in January, which will highlight opportunities to promote access and success at South African universities.

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