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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 welcomes Prof Francis Petersen as new Vice-Chancellor and Rector
2017-04-02

 

Prof Francis Petersen takes up office as the 14th Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State today.
 
“On behalf of the UFS Council and the university community, I would like to welcome Prof Petersen to the university. He brings to the UFS a distinguished academic record, confident leadership, innovative thinking, and an understanding of the extent of the challenges being experienced by universities in the broader South African context,” says Mr Willem Louw, Chairperson of the UFS Council. 
 
“I am excited to join the UFS and look forward to meeting the university community, to get to know the three campuses, and to engage with staff and students. In a way, it was a natural progression for me to be appointed in this position, having been Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and then Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Institutional Innovation at the same university.  On the other hand, I believe that universities in South Africa need strong and innovative leadership. I would like to make a contribution to the higher-education system in this regard.  Moreover, I regard the UFS as a very good university, and see my challenge in taking the UFS to the next level,” says Prof Petersen.
 
“Challenges and making a difference motivate me – whether complex or simplistic, the opportunity to be able to provide solutions and taking people with me while developing these solutions, is what ultimately motivates me.”
 
“It is important that different viewpoints are respected. The UFS must be a place where everyone feels welcome. There must be a strong sense of belonging; staff and students must feel they are making a contribution to the university,” he says.
 
According to Prof Petersen, the major challenge for the university is its institutional climate.  “My focus would be to strive towards creating an institutional climate of inclusivity, respect for one another, valuing diversity in all its forms, and to make the university a welcoming place. The UFS is in the process of developing an Integrated Transformation Plan (ITP) that will serve as the road map to address the institutional climate challenge, but will also assist (if implemented effectively) in excelling the UFS in areas of teaching and learning, research and innovation, and community engagement through scholarship,” says Prof Petersen.

“I am a good listener, I am outcome-based, and my vision for the university includes diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence,” he says.

Prof Petersen was born in Oudtshoorn and grew up in Malmesbury in the Western Cape, where he also matriculated. He graduated from Stellenbosch University with a BEng (Chem Eng), MEng (Metal Eng), and PhD (Eng) degrees and completed a short course on Financial Skills for Executive Management. He is a recipient of the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Award for research excellence, and was visiting professor at the Cape Technikon and extraordinary professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University. He is a regular reviewer of journals, and member of a range of editorial boards for international journals. He is also a registered professional engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa and a Fellow of both the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and the South African Academy of Engineers.

 He brings to the position of Vice-Chancellor and Rector his extensive experience of management in both the industry and academic sectors. He has been the executive head of strategy at Anglo American Platinum and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology). Among others, he previously served as member on the Board of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the National Advisory Council on Innovation, and the Council of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

 Prof Petersen is married and has two sons. He was appointed by the UFS Council at the end of 2016 after Prof Jonathan Jansen stepped down as Vice-Chancellor and Rector on 31 August 2016, serving in this position since July 2009. Prof Nicky Morgan, Vice-Rector: Operations at the UFS, has been acting Vice-Chancellor and Rector since 1 September 2016.

 

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