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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

Investec guest speaker exhorts South Campus students to ‘give it their all’
2017-02-16

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Video clip
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The South Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) recently welcomed new first-year and returning senior students during an event in the Madiba Arena. This year marks another highlight for the campus, with the accommodation of 252 students in a brand-new residence named Legae (meaning “Home”) on the property.

Prof Daniella Coetzee, Campus Principal, reminded the gathered students, “You are a fully-fledged Kovsie, and this is the first day of the rest of your life. You are now going to really work on your dreams.”

She went on to relate the life story of Albert Einstein, renowned physicist, making the point, “When you work, when you persist, when you take it one day at a time, you never lose sight of your dreams, and you will reach your dreams. I can promise you one thing, dear Kovsies, that if you work hard, plan hard, and you put your mind to it, it will definitely be worthwhile.”

Setlogane Manchidi, Head of Investec’s Corporate Social Investments division and guest speaker, told his colourful life story and academic journey. He described his ‘a-ha moment’ in high school, “when the penny dropped and everything started making sense” on a visit to his mother’s employer in Johannesburg, after going to the cinema to watch a movie: “This is the life I want to live.”

Description: 'South Campus Opening Tags: South Campus, Opening
Andrew Tlou, Investec Social Investment; Carol Bunn,
UFS Institutional Advancement; Setlogane Manchidi,
Head of Investec’s Corporate Social Investments division;
Tshegofatso Setilo, UAP Programmes Manager; and
Francois Marais, Director: Access Programmes,
at the South Campus opening and orientation day.
Photo: Eugene Seegers


This led to a new resolve in his scholastic efforts at the rural school back home in Ga-Phahla, Limpopo, and he started studying over weekends and by candlelight at night. Mr Manchidi shared this lesson with the students, “At that point, I lost my so-called ‘friends.’ I learnt this: Peer pressure is real. If you want to deal with peer pressure, surround yourself with the right peers! Surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart. Surround yourself with people who will not turn you back from your path.” He later succeeded in obtaining a bursary to study at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Mr Manchidi concluded by exhorting students to aspire to greatness, “Every time you settle for what is expected, you rob yourself of the opportunity to prove yourself out of the ordinary. Choose to exceed expectations. Give it your all!”

 

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