Dr. Melanie Walker, a senior research professor at the University of the Free State in South Africa (UFS) and associate member of CIRGE, is establishing the Higher Education and Human Development Center at UFS. In this first stage, the Center will research how higher education can contribute to building human capital for a knowledge economy, while at the same time contribute substantially to the public good and make lives better by addressing social mobility and continuing inequalities in South Africa and also globally. Because, both in South Africa and also internationally, the question of what public universities should be doing and what they should be trying to achieve in a world of moral urgencies and remediable injustices is increasingly important.
In order to address these questions, the center has launched a program of fellowships to finance masters and doctoral students and post-doctoral students who are interested in researching higher education and its contributions to human development in education and society.
The certainty is that there is tremendous potential for higher education to contribute to the public good through research and public engagement informed by such research. Therefore, the center is particularly interested in research projects that might scrutinize higher education strategies, processes and achievements for how they enhance social sustainability (making lives better, alleviating poverty), as well as economic competitiveness. Other research topics are how to strengthen the capabilities of diverse groups of students to actively shape their personal and work lives, and to act as confident agents in responding to, and shaping economic, cultural, demographic and technological challenges. Other projects might explore curriculum and pedagogical strategies which enable diverse young people to convert knowledge, skills and competencies into capabilities for fully participating, active citizens. Factors constraining young people from doing so fully would be studied. Projects might explore access and pedagogical justice, pedagogic rights and capabilities, the fostering of a thick ‘world citizenship’, governance, quality, internationalization, knowledge economies, and do on.