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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

National Arts Council opens doors for students in Drama and Theatre Arts
2017-06-29

Description: National Arts Council opens doors for students  Tags: National Arts Council opens doors for students

Four postgraduate students from the University of the
Free State received bursaries from the National Arts
Council this year. They are, from the left: Gerrit Fourie,
Maryn Hattingh, Prof Pieter Venter, Programme Director
of drama at the UFS, Stella Nortier, and Franco de Wet. 
Photo: Esté Strydom

Thanks to bursaries from the National Arts Council (NAC), many students are finding it easier to study Drama and Theatre Arts, the discipline is able to offer more job opportunities, and it provides an opportunity to those who probably would never have had the chance. This is according to Prof Nico Luwes, Head of the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of the Free State (UFS).

This year, several students from the UFS, including 12 undergraduates and four postgraduates, are again beneficiaries of NAC bursaries to the value of roughly R206 000 – about R150 000 of which will be used for undergraduate studies and R56 000 for postgraduate studies. The UFS was awarded the same amount for undergraduate students in the previous year, but didn’t then receive NAC bursaries for postgraduate studies.

Good relationship with NAC over many years
The UFS has received NAC bursaries since 2005, and Prof Luwes says the university’s good relationship with the council runs over many years. “They are very happy with the feedback on our students’ achievements,” he says.

“Although Dramatic Arts is a matric subject, the provincial department of education does not support students with education bursaries for this subject. With bursaries from the National Arts Council, students can thus study to become theatre artists, and work as teachers for the Dramatic Arts in schools.”

Alumni stand out in entertainment industry
Prof Luwes says his department provides students the opportunity to do performances and practical exams in English, Afrikaans, and Sesotho. This is done to give all students an equal opportunity to excel. “In addition, several of our alumni have achieved success in the entertainment industry, and our staff members often feature in professional performances at arts festivals.”

Undergraduate students who were awarded NAC bursaries:
•    Jolene Swartz
•    Boitumelo Mohutsioa
•    René Lombard
•    Mandisa Wiso
•    Thapelo Mabona
•    Charlize Oberholster
•    Thembisile Baai
•    Naledi Maolusi
•    Mbuyiselo Nqodi
•    Vuyiswa Mxasa
•    Deandi Scholtz
•    Dylan Britz

Postgraduate students who were awarded NAC bursaries:

•    Gerrit Fourie
•    Maryn Hattingh
•    Stella Nortier
•    Franco de Wet

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