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14 December 2020
Prof Abdon Atangana
Prof Abdon Atangana is known for his work in developing a new fractional operator used to model real-world problems arising in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. He was recently awarded the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award by The World Academy of Sciences.

Prof Abdon Atangana, Professor of Applied Mathematics in the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS), was awarded the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award by The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries.

It is the first time that the TWAS Mohammad A. Hamdan Award was bestowed. According to a statement issued by TWAS, this award is given for outstanding mathematical work carried out by a scientist working and living in Africa or the Arab region. It states that the award can be given for work in pure mathematics, applied mathematics, probability, or statistics. Prof Atangana received the award for his contribution to fractal mathematics and partial differential equations.

Making a difference in society

He is known for his research in developing a new fractional operator, the Atangana-Baleanu operator, which is used to model real-world problems. With this operator, he not only describes the rate at which something will change, but also account for disrupting factors that will help to produce better projections.

His work can be applied to make complicated predictions in the fields of science, technology, and engineering. His models can, for instance, help to predict the spread of infectious diseases among people in a settlement, forecasting the number of people who will be infected each day, the number of people who will recover, and the number of people who will die.

Prof Atangana’s models can also help to advise people drilling for water by predicting how groundwater is flowing in a complex geological formation. These are only two examples of how his work can be applied to make a difference in society.

The award from TWAS is the third prestigious commendation he has received in the past month. He was recently named as one of the top 1% scientists on the global Clarivate Web of Science list. His name also appeared on a global list of leading scientists published by Stanford University in the United States. The list is the result of a study published in PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewed open-access journal.

World’s most accomplished scientists

Honours awarded by TWAS and its partners are among the most prestigious for research in the developing world. They recognise outstanding achievements and contributions to science and acknowledge the best work by scientists from the global South.

TWAS, founded in 1983 by a group of scientists under the leadership of Pakistani physicist and Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam, believes that developing nations – by growing strength in science and engineering – will be able to address challenges such as hunger, disease, and poverty, through their knowledge and skills.

TWAS is represented in 100 countries, and of the more than a thousand elected fellows, 14 are Nobel laureates. Eighty-four percent of these fellows are from developing nations. TWAS fellows are also some of the world’s most accomplished scientists.

News Archive

Inaugural lecture: Prof. Annette Wilkinson

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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