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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

Physics Department sheds light on mystery of dark matter through films and radio programme
2017-06-23

Description: Dark Matter Tags: Dark Matter

The screening of The Dark Matter Mystery and Dark
at the Naval Hill Planetarium was followed by a discussion
recorded for the radio programme Sterre en Planete
on RSG. From left are Mariette Erwee, Senior Officer at
the School of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and
Technology Education of the UFS, Prof Matie Hoffman,
Associate Professor at the Physics Department of the UFS,
Hennie Maas, from RSG, and Sakkie van der Westhuizen,
PhD student in astrophysics.
Photo: Mart-Mari Duvenhage

The Physics Department at the University of the Free State (UFS) not only recently educated the local community about the mystery of dark matter, but shared its knowledge with a much wider audience.

The first screening of two planetarium full-dome films, The Dark Matter Mystery and Dark, at the Naval Hill Planetarium were concluded with a recording for the radio programme Sterre en Planete. During the discussion, led by Hennie Maas from RSG radio station, the audience asked questions that were answered by Prof Matie Hoffman, Associate Professor at the department, Sakkie van der Westhuizen, a PhD student in astrophysics, and Mariette Erwee from the School of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology Education. The radio show was broadcast on 18 June at 19:30 on RSG.

Shows screened at special event
According to Prof Hoffman the planetarium hosts a movie premiere whenever pre-rendered shows are screened for the first time. The films shown on 10 June 2017 introduced viewers to the quest for dark matter. “Dark Matter makes up a huge part of the Universe, but it is a great mystery. We know very little about it. We cannot see it, and it is an area of enormous interest to scientists,” Prof Hoffman said.

Films sourced from European Southern Observatory
The event was attended by various stakeholders such as loyal planetarium patrons, UFS colleagues, and those interested in astronomy. The films were sourced from the European Southern Observatory, an organisation that makes planetarium content available online.

The Dark Matter Mystery took the audience on contemporary astrophysics’ biggest quest. They saw why astronomers know dark matter exists. Dark, directed by Peter Morse, is an adventure that goes to the very edges of contemporary cosmology and data visualisation, telling a complex scientific story with a touch of humanity.

The films will be screened at the Naval Hill Planetarium from time to time and those interested can visit Computicket for more info.

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