NIHSS awards schol­ar­ships to more than 600 doc­toral stu­dents

The Na­tional In­sti­tute for the Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sciences in­vests in re­vi­tal­is­ing South Africa’s higher ed­u­ca­tion spa­ces

Mail & Guardian - - Nihss - Tam­sin Ox­ford

The Na­tional In­sti­tute for the Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sciences (NIHSS) was founded in 2013 against a back­drop of a de­cline in teach­ing and re­search qual­ity in the so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties. It was the re­sult of a spe­cial project of the depart­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing and its man­date was to ad­vance and co-or­di­nate schol­ar­ship, re­search and eth­i­cal prac­tice in the fields of the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences within, and through, ex­ist­ing pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Nthabiseng Mot­semme, NIHSS aca­demic schol­ar­ship direc­tor: “Since in­cep­tion, the NIHSS has pro­vided schol­ar­ships to more than 600 doc­toral can­di­dates and plans to pro­duce a fur­ther 300 doc­toral grad­u­ates by 2020. We are proud to have made sig­nif­i­cant in­roads in the sup­port and en­hance­ment of ed­u­ca­tion for many South Africans.”

The or­gan­i­sa­tion re­cently held its Fourth An­nual Na­tional Doc­toral Con­fer­ence (ANDC) gala din­ner to cel­e­brate the grad­u­a­tion of 50 new PhD fel­lows. This is the sec­ond co­hort of doc­toral grad­u­ates and it ce­ments the on­go­ing suc­cess of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and its con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to chang­ing the face of the higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. The qual­ity of the grad­u­ates, and their ris­ing num­bers, is tes­ta­ment to the NIHSS re­main­ing on track to strengthen a stu­dent-cen­tred cul­ture while ad­dress­ing the in­equal­i­ties that re­main in the sys­tem.

Hu­man­i­ties Dean of Fort Hare Univer­sity, Pro­fes­sor Baba Tshot­sho, said: “Peo­ple with doc­toral de­grees are con­sid­ered a vi­able na­tional re­source to ad­dress chal­lenges. Doc­toral ed­u­ca­tion is the busi­ness of iden­ti­fy­ing the gaps, ask­ing ques­tions and try­ing to pro­vide so­lu­tions to some of the ques­tions.”

Tshot­sho be­lieves that grad­u­ates make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to the coun­try and con­tribute to the world of knowl­edge. This is a view shared by chief ex­ec­u­tive of the NIHSS, Pro­fes­sor Sarah Mosoetsa. She em­pha­sises that the or­gan­i­sa­tion is not just a fund­ing body, but an in­tel­lec­tual hub that helps to de­fine and shape the fu­ture of the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences. It also con­tin­ues the de­bate that surges around the trans­for­ma­tion im­per­a­tive of the higher ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum and the need to re­flect on the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences schol­ar­ships that are taught in South African uni­ver­si­ties. For Mosoetsa, the cur­ricu­lum needs to be­come more in­clu­sive, fo­cus­ing on African in­tel­lec­tual tra­di­tions and lan­guages while si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­think­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing African epis­te­molo­gies.

Reignit­ing African lan­guages

Within this con­ver­sa­tion lies an­other as­pect — that of lan­guage. Pro­fes­sor Grace Khu­nou, a men­tor of the NIHSS, echoed the same sen­ti­ment about the value and im­por­tance of learn­ing and writ­ing in a per­son’s mother tongue. She shared: “Two years ago, a doc­toral pro­posal was writ­ten in isiZulu and it sent much­needed shock waves through the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.” She points to the need to reignite African lan­guages in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor as this could po­ten­tially reignite the na­tion. To­day, more and more schol­ars are em­brac­ing their mother tongues and this move­ment is fur­ther sup­ported by the NIHSS’s Shut Up and Write in­ter­ven­tion.

Ini­tia­tives such as these are in­te­gral to the suc­cess of the goals of the NIHSS and to fur­ther­ing the vi­sion of the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP). The lat­ter is fo­cused on pro­duc­ing highly skilled and qual­i­fied in­di­vid­u­als to meet the needs of the econ­omy by 2030. An in­crease in the per­cent­age of PhD grad­u­ates is a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards achiev­ing this goal, es­pe­cially in light of the fact that South Africa must in­crease the per­cent­age of PhDqual­i­fied staff in the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor to 75%. Cur­rently this num­ber sits at around 34%. The NDP is com­mit­ted to pro­duc­ing more than 100 doc­toral grad­u­ates per mil­lion peo­ple. The NIHSS has al­ready made sig­nif­i­cant in­roads into this to­tal by pro­duc­ing more than 50 grad­u­ates in 2018 and has a goal to pro­duce 300 by 2020.

Along­side its Shut Up and Write ini­tia­tive, the NIHSS has also in­vested in the Cat­alytic Projects and Hu­man­i­ties Hubs — re­search­based pro­grammes that fo­cus on catalysing new av­enues for hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences schol­ar­ships. These hubs as­sist in, and pro­mote, the de­vel­op­ment of re­search in the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences and are un­der­taken by es­tab­lish­ing a net­work of re­searchers across the univer­sity sys­tem in South Africa. The goal is to sup­port co­her­ent col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search pro­grammes that in­volve re­searchers in study ar­eas that have been ap­proved, along­side a myr­iad other ben­e­fits and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

HSS mak­ing trans­for­ma­tive rel­e­vance con­crete

The NIHSS ANDC con­fer­ence was held over two days, on Oc­to­ber 31 and Novem­ber 1. It ad­dressed key themes that res­onate across the coun­try and the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor — the grow­ing need for the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences, and their im­pact on mak­ing trans­for­ma­tive rel­e­vance con­crete. The con­fer­ence also ex­am­ined the top­ics of cre­at­ing acad­e­mies of in­clu­sion, spear-head­ing cur­ricu­lum re­form as well as pro­mot­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment through trans-dis­ci­plinary in­ter­ac­tions.

For two days, the con­fer­ence was also a plat­form for sec­ond- and third-year PhD stu­dents to present their ab­stracts to a room of more than 200 fel­low PhD schol­ars. The stu­dents came from 19 dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try, and the win­ning ab­stracts were an­nounced at the event.

The awards cer­e­mony saw many of the grad­u­ates speak of their in­spi­ra­tion and pro­vide in­sight into the sys­tem, the fu­ture and their roles in chang­ing South Africa. One grad­u­ate said: “We do not need to be af­firmed. We need to be cre­ative, au­then­tic, and gen­er­ate our own ex­cel­lence. That is what the NIHSS is ask­ing of us. The time is for us to chal­lenge our­selves to be hu­man. Not a white hu­man, a black hu­man or a brown hu­man, but a hu­man. We want to thank the NIHSS for open­ing up op­por­tu­ni­ties that were pre­vi­ously de­nied to us.”

A mov­ing, in­spi­ra­tion and pow­er­ful event, the NIHSS ANDC show­cased the value of in­vest­ing in peo­ple and recog­nis­ing in­clu­siv­ity and di­ver­sity of the South African higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. The in­tro­duc­tion of En­coun­ters was an­other in­no­va­tion in­tro­duced at this year’s con­fer­ence. This plat­form is de­signed for pub­lished au­thors such as Jolyn Phillips, author of Tjieng Tjang Tjer­ries & Other Sto­ries, Bhek­iz­izwe Peter­son, co-ed­i­tor of Sol Plaatje’s Na­tive Life in South Africa: Past and Present, and Nomkhosi Xulu-Gama, author of Hos­tels in South Africa: Spa­ces of Per­plex­ity to present their work, as it is play­ing a fun­da­men­tal role in shap­ing the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences cur­ricu­lum.

The NIHSS reaf­firmed its man­date to de­fine a post-apartheid tra­jec­tory of schol­ar­ships that are cog­nisant of the coun­try’s im­me­di­ate and long-term de­vel­op­men­tal re­quire­ments as a key so­ci­ety in Africa. The key­note, pre­sen­ta­tions and schol­ar­ship pre­sen­ta­tions un­der­scored the val­ues that ce­ment the foun­da­tions of the NIHSS and the work that it does; co-op­er­a­tion, com­mu­ni­ties, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, eq­uity, and trans­for­ma­tive rel­e­vance. While the stu­dents may have ex­pe­ri­enced highs and lows as they jour­neyed to­wards their goals, the NIHSS pro­vided them with the struc­ture and sup­port they re­quired to make their dreams into a pow­er­ful re­al­ity.

As one stu­dent con­cluded: “Many of us are the first in our fam­i­lies to ob­tain our de­grees. Ed­u­ca­tion is the only way we can break the vi­cious cy­cle of poverty in our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties and our next task is en­sur­ing we are not the last to at­tend uni­ver­si­ties. We need to en­cour­age oth­ers and let them be­lieve their dreams are valid. The NIHSS is a huge gift to many of us who did not have the ways and means to get through ed­u­ca­tion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.