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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

Third NRF A-rated researcher for UFS
2017-02-03

Description: Prof Jansen, NRF A-rated researcher  Tags: Prof Jansen, NRF A-rated researcher

Prof Jonathan Jansen, senior researcher at the UFS
Faculty of Education, recently joined two other
UFS researchers as NRF A-rated researchers.
They from the left are: Profs Melanie Walker, Maxim Finkelstein
and Jansen.
Photo: Charl Devenish

The University of the Free State received its third A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) when Prof Jonathan Jansen was awarded an A2-rating.

Prof Jansen is a Senior Research Professor in Education secondary research field and field of specialisation: Development education and Curriculum theory at the UFS Faculty of Education and Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at Stanford University in the US.

Prof Jansen’s rating follows P-rating
Prof Jansen’s rating also adds to the recent P-rating awarded to Dr Daniel Spence, a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the International Studies Group. In receiving the rating, the UFS became the only university in South Africa with a P-rated researcher in History.

P-ratings are given to young researchers, usually under the age of 35, who have the potential to become leaders in their field. Researchers in this group are recognised by all, or the overwhelming majority of, reviewers, as having demonstrated the potential to become future international leaders. 

“Obtaining another A-rating is indicative of the university’s drive to enhance its research profile – nationally as well as internationally. I am thankful to our scholars for their commitment to the rating process and look forward to receive the results of this year’s ratings,” said Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research at the UFS.   

Total number of researchers increased
The UFS has also upped the ante with regards to its total number of NRF-rated researchers during the latest rating and evaluation with an increase from 127 in 2015 to 149 rated researchers in 2016.

In 2015, Prof Maxim Finkelstein from the Department of Mathematical Statistics and Actuarial Science, and Prof Melanie Walker, Senior Research Professor and Director of the Centre for Research on Higher Education and Development, were given A-ratings.

Prof Finkelstein’s rating then made him the only A-rated researcher in ‘Probability and Statistics’ regarding Mathematical Sciences in the country. Prof Walker was evaluated and graded in the division for Research, Innovation Support and Advancement.

According to the NRF, A-rated researchers are “unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs”.

 

The rating of individuals is based primarily on the quality and impact of their research over the past eight years.

 

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