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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 Vice-Chancellor’s vision for 2016: R100 million before September
2016-03-03

Description: Official opening 2016 Tags: Official opening 2016

At the official opening of the University of the Free State (UFS), held on 19 February 2016 on the Bloemfontein Campus, Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice Chancellor and Rector, announced that his priority for the year is to raise R100 million. Deserving students who cannot afford to study will receive bursaries through the Student Bursary Fund Campaign.

Staff will also have the opportunity to contribute to the fund.

Prof Jansen thanked staff for their hard work in the midst of what he described as “by far the most difficult year for admissions, registration, accommodation, and student finance”. The heightened expectations of students after FeesMustFall and the limited capacity of the university to meet the desires of students took its toll on staff.

Because of the incredible strain taken by staff members, both emotionally and physically, the Vice-Chancellor gave staff the assurance that they will receive spiritual, emotional, and health support.

“Never before have I seen such dedication from all our staff to hold the university together in these trying times,” Prof Jansen said.

“Because of you, we have a record intake of first-year students into the UFS. We have had about 5 000 students on average in the past three years and, as of today, we are nearing 7000 first-years with the strong possibility that we will enroll several thousand more students, once the new South Campus registrations come on line later this year. By mid-2016, we will exceed our own target of 8 000 students,” said Prof Jansen.

He stipulated that it is not only good for the finances of the university but also for the youth of the country who can access a quality university in central South Africa where the safety of its staff and students is a priority.

Another highlight at this event was announcing Dr Christian Williams from the Department of Anthropology as the winner of the 2016 Distinguished Scholar Book Prize for his book, National liberation in postcolonial southern Africa: a historical ethnography of SWAPO’s exile camps.

Amidst the sad episodes of violence and destruction on campuses around South Africa, Prof Jansen highlighted how the UFS will – through a seven-point approach - manage the university during these difficult times:
1.    Doing everything within our capacity to meet the needs of staff and students
2.    Upholding the right to peaceful protest in our democracy
3.    Acting swiftly against any unlawful actions by students or workers
4.    Upholding the authority of the unions (only UVPERSU and NEHAWU)
5.    Finding humane and just solutions to the problem of outsourcing
6.    Not placing the UFS at financial risk by making irresponsible decisions
7.    Maintaining an open door policy.

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