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28 November 2022 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Melanie Walker
Prof Melanie Walker is one of two NRF A1-rated scholars at the UFS.

The Higher Education and Human Development (HEHD) research group under the leadership of Prof Melanie Walker has grown to become a pocket of academic excellence and innovation at the UFS. “The group’s research positions universities (if ‘reimagined’) as potentially powerful sites for achieving human development by challenging the status quo and entrenched interests and inequalities,” Prof Walker notes. 

HEHD researchers draw substantially on the capability approach, which offers a contribution to higher education in South Africa, primarily because it derives from a normative framework that places human flourishing as its primary goal, chiming with the country’s transformation goals.

Prof Walker is an internationally acclaimed researcher and academic and one of three A-rated National Research Foundation (NRF) scholars at the UFS. In 2021, she was elected as the first president of the international Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA) from the Global South. Back then, Prof Walker said the UFS already had a strong research presence within the HDCA, and her group was known for its work in African higher education. The HDCA brings together academics who generate ideas and research on human development.

The research group, which was founded by Prof Walker, is an embodiment of the quality and of the impact elements of the institutional narrative of the UFS. The HEHD is now happily based in the Centre for Development Support within the UFS Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences.

Top-tier research outputs from HEHD

The outputs of the HEHD research group have a far-reaching impact, given the nature of its national and international affiliated researchers, students, and collaborators. Members of the group have published 19 peer-reviewed books since 2013, and since 2016, the HEHD has graduated 20 PhDs whose research focuses on diverse aspects of higher education and capabilities across the sub- Saharan region. A range of international examiners in the USA, the UK and Europe attest to the quality of the HEHD’s doctoral graduates.

“I am immensely proud of the quality of the research and collective ethos of our graduate students and our researchers and, as importantly, the substantive focus on human development and social justice in and through higher education in Africa,” Prof Walker says. “As Professor Tristan McCowan and others have noted, this group is quite unique internationally,” she continues.

Projects and research collaborations

The numerous institutional and national and international research collaborations are also testament to the interdisciplinarity of Prof Walker’s academic approach. Various recent and current projects attest to this, for example, the recently completed Miratho project on inclusive higher education learning outcomes for low-income rural youth with Birmingham and Nottingham.

Some of the the book titles that have been published by HEHD members past and present, on display on the wall in the Benito Khotseng Building on the Bloemfontein Campus. (Photo: Anja Aucamp) 


A further current example is the project under the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) with Bristol and Rhodes led by Dr Mikateko Mathebula, and a new edited book underway with Alejandra Boni and Diana Velasco (Spain) on higher education and reparative futures.

 
Furthermore, national collaborations such as the project with colleagues in the Centre for Development Support at the UFS and the University of Pretoria, which will be investigating the sustainable (ecologically and socially), developmental South African university and justice facing university futures from a variety of stakeholder 
perspectives.

This research project is informed by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, because achieving them cannot be done without the contributions of higher education institutions.

It is thus evident that under the leadership of Prof Walker, the HEHD research group is now established as one of the finest research groups at the UFS and contributes actively to the research and academic excellence at the university.

News Archive

UFS receives R10 million in student funding from Absa
2017-06-19

 

Description: UFS receives R10 million in student funding from Absa Tags: UFS receives R10 million in student funding from Absa

From the left: Asive Dlanjwa (UFS SRC) Prof Francis Petersen, Fikemini Dlamini,
Bertie Smith and Lesley Afrika (student beneficiary 2016-2017)

 

In support of building a more equitable and prosperous Africa, and in response to the plight of students who lack financial aid at universities across the country, Absa Bank handed over a cheque of R10 million to the University of the Free State (UFS) at a ceremony held on the Bloemfontein Campus on 13 June 2017 by the office of Institutional Advancement. The allocation of these funds will assist students who meet the bursary programme criteria (proven financial need, students who are from households with a combined income of less than R1 million per annum, with an academic average of 55% or higher).

Corporate and higher education collaborate
Speaking at the event, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS Prof Francis Petersen highlighted the important role corporates play in collaborating with educational institutions to help support future professionals who are the future builders of the economy and will later lead industry. “Absa and the UFS enjoy a good relationship and it is our hope that this bursary programme will grow from strength to strength,” he said.

In 2016 alone, Absa Bank disbursed R12 million towards settling outstanding fees for 439 students in four faculties of the UFS. In 2017 the funds will be allocated similarly to cover financial needs of qualifying students. Mr Bertie Smith, Absa Management Executive: Central Region said: “The university plays an important role in building future leaders and Absa’s strategy of shared growth supports the focus on education.”

Responding to a greater socioeconomic need
The event was attended by staff of the UFS and delegates from the Absa group, as well as students who were beneficiaries of the Absa Bursary Fund in 2016. Mr Fikemini Dlamini, Absa Head: Public Sector Business Banking, said the bursary programme was born out of the growing need to fund and develop the education of young people, and is a response to the outcry from students across the country in the “Fees Must Fall” movement. He said: “Educating one young person has a knock-on effect that has the potential to alleviate poverty in many families and communities around us.”



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