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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

Important message to UFS students on NSFAS and financial aid in general
2013-02-01

31 January 2013

Dear Students

There remains some uncertainty as well as misinformation within the student body concerning NSFAS and financial aid in general. This communication is intended to provide the facts on the state of student funding at the University of the Free State (UFS). I hope you find this information helpful and that it would guide you in your decisions as you wait to hear from, or hopefully receive funding from NSFAS or any other source.

  1. Every year the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) determines how much funding is available to fund students at all universities in South Africa; this is determined in part by the student numbers. Universities do not ask for, or determine the DHET allocation and are instructed by government that “NSFAS will ensure that the universities comply with the processes, procedures…for the allocated funds.”

  2. On 14 December 2012 the UFS received notice from the DHET that our total allocation would be R108,331,215.66 and that this amount must be apportioned in the following categories:
    General NSFAS Funding R85,174,275.07
    Teacher Training R2,291,940.59
    Disability Funding R1,265,000.00
    Final-Year Programme R19,600,000.00

  3. The UFS received 5 952 applications for NSFAS funding and with the available funding we can only finance up to 3 000 students on the Qwaqwa and Bloemfontein Campuses, provided that those students satisfy the stringent criteria, e.g. the so-called “national means test” determined for all universities in the country. If we funded more students that the available monies allow, the university would be held accountable by the NSFAS Board and the DHET and this would threaten future funding.

  4. Students apply in the previous year and therefore late applications are less likely to receive funding.

  5. Academic merit also counts, therefore students who fail one or more modules are less likely to receive new or ongoing support from NSFAS. The combination of academic standing and financial need are among the important criteria in decision-making on NSFAS funds.

  6. The UFS is one of the few universities with a very efficient record in using every cent made available to support poor students; we are proud of this record. No money is sent back to NSFAS, except small amounts not claimed by students in the disability category. The university is not allowed to shift funds between categories as described in point #2 above.

  7. Allocations are not based on campus, but need.

  8. The UFS sets aside an additional R35,7 million (in 2013) from within its own budget as bursaries so that we can accommodate as many students as possible. We spend every cent of this funding on students.

  9. The UFS also raises millions in bursaries from the private sector to support poor and promising students, though these funds are often linked to the industry granting the money, e.g. Investec for Accounting students and SASOL for Chemistry students. This recruitment of bursaries is a 24/7 commitment of the Marketing Office and the Faculties and Heads of Departments are also active in raising funds from government agencies, parastatals and the private sector for students in their units.

  10. After almost all our 2013 funds were allocated in favour of students, we calculated a shortfall in the NSFAS allocation of approximately R51 million. We are in the process of making an urgent submission to NSFAS to consider this additional allocation, but we cannot guarantee that this plea can or will be met.

Finally, I want all our students to know that the University of the Free State works very hard to raise every cent we can to provide poor students with funding for their studies. Many of my colleagues, including support staff, who do not earn very much, use some of their meagre personal resources to help a student with money for registration or clothing or food. In fact, the No Student Hungry Campaign that raises more than R600,000 by UFS volunteers annually, is another mechanism for trying to assist students who might have money for studies, but not much else.

We do this because we care, and because this is what The Human Project at Kovsies is all about.

I therefore ask for your patience as we continue our labour of raising the funds that enable every deserving student to continue their studies at the University of the Free State.

Should you have any further questions about NSFAS, please leave an email inquiry on choanet@ufs.ac.za or mallettca@ufs.ac.za and we will endeavour to provide you with the information you require.

Sincerely Yours

Jonathan D Jansen
Vice-Chancellor and Rector
University of the Free State

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