Dr. Bernadette Johnson, Director of Research believes VUT stands on the precipice of being one of the greatest universities on the African continent owing to its location and its largely working class student base, thereby acting as a catalyst for transformation and betterment of lives in poor communities.
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Dr Johnson’s perspective on transformation at VUT

 

Dr Johnson’s perspective on transformation at VUT

Dr. Bernadette Johnson, Director of Research believes VUT stands on the precipice of being one of the greatest universities on the African continent owing to its location and its largely working class student base, thereby acting as a catalyst for transformation and betterment of lives in poor communities.

Amongst other things, she believes increasing the number of academic staff who hold masters and doctorates is key in a multi-pronged strategy to transform VUT from a “technikon” mentality into a fully-fledged university with world-class research capabilities to serve its mostly working-class student base.

“Owing to its background as a technical college and technikon, VUT did not have a critical mass of masters and doctorates in its academic ranks,” said Dr Johnson.

To this end, VUT has partnered with the Global Legacy Trust (GLT), a non-profit international training body, to increase the number of master and doctorate researchers in its ranks as it seeks to bolster its research output and number of graduates at the highest level.

The GLT master and doctoral programmes focus on academic training, student training, leadership training, supervisory training and research training. The emphasis of the VUT-GLT training programme is on theory of research, methodology sciences, and research philosophy as per the guidelines and format of VUT.

GLT has both local and global facilitators from countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland, USA and from local universities such as the KwaZulu-Natal University, the University of Johannesburg and others.

Dr Johnson says the need for institutions of the higher learning to increase their production of doctorates is enunciated in SA’s development blueprint, the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP seeks to increase SA’s economic growth from the current 2% to 6% on a consistent basis in order to put a dent on unemployment and improve the standard of living of the majority of SA citizens.

Universities play a crucial part in achieving the objectives of the NDP and Dr Johnson believes special attention must be given to universities such as VUT, that are serving the poor of the poorest students, as they are more burdened compared to historically advantaged universities such as the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Universities that employ more academics with PhDs than others boast a higher number of graduates – and research outputs – than universities with fewer such academics.

Dr Johnson cautions against replicating historically advantaged universities such as UCT saying: “We shouldn’t aspire to be like UCT, we need to find our unique positioning and expression in the context within which we are operating and provide shared knowledge, co-creation platforms and collaborative opportunities with our local communities,” she said.

Interestingly, 90% of students are African, making VUT the most transformed institution of higher learning in terms of student population representation compared to formerly advantaged universities such as UCT.

“Serving working-class students has to be one of the central themes in the transformation template of universities such as VUT. Addressing the inextricable link between race and class, as it is evidenced through the varying socioeconomic statuses of black students in the higher education system, requires state funding to alleviate resource deficiencies.

“This is not to say that those of UCT’s black students who come from poor families should not be supported, but rather that the bulk of funding must go to the institutions that have the most difficult job of transforming the lives of “subaltern” students.

“Such students must not be allowed to drop off the country’s transformation agenda”, concluded Dr Johnson.

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