University of South Africa (UNISA)
University of South Africa (UNISA) is Africa’s premier distance learning university. It is a dedicated, reputable, comprehensive, flexible and accessible Open Distance Learning institution. It offers internationally accredited qualifications and has world-class resources that inspire learners to create meaningful futures on their own terms. UNISA’s vision “Towards the African university in the service of humanity” is a driving force for finding answers to Africa’s education and developmental problems. By forming partnerships in Africa and throughout the world, the university is able to help the people of Africa achieve their dreams.
The defining characteristic of the new UNISA is its comprehensive nature, with a formidable total student body in the region of 300,000. The institution offers a diverse choice of study fields at levels from certificate to degree, and postgraduate qualifications in fields ranging from animal health, agriculture, law, business management, communications, education, and humanities, to name but a few. UNISA is now also represented in all provinces of South Africa with strong outreach to SADC countries as well as other African countries.
UNISA’s PASCAL Host
The host for PASCAL at UNISA is the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) in Development Education. The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) is a strategically focused knowledge and human resource intervention into the South African Higher Education system that was established through a parliamentary dispensation and is funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology. Administered by the National Research Foundation (NRF), the core mandate of the SARChI is to advance the frontiers of knowledge through focused research in identified fields or problem areas, and create new research career pathways for highly skilled, high quality young and mid-career researchers, as well as stimulate strategic research across the knowledge spectrum.
At UNISA, the SARChI Chair in Development Education is located in the School of Graduate Studies and is supported by UNISA’s Research Directorate. However, its transformative impetus reaches into Unisa’s institutional strategies and several tenets of the Institutional Operational Plan. Development Education is a new area in academic research and citizenship education which takes development and the acute lessons drawn from it as a pedagogic field and human development as the goal. Its exploration through research, post-graduate teaching, and community engagement seeks answers to some of the most taxing and exciting questions about development, knowledge production and science.
Established in January 2008 with a 15 year mandate as a national Chair and thus an inter-university hub to take the lead in breaking new grounds in knowledge production and postgraduate training, the SARChI Chair in Development Education asks the questions:
- What kind of transformative actions must be brought to bear to enable both restorative action and sustainable human development to occur in Africa and elsewhere?
- How can key areas of disciplinary knowledge production (such as science, economics, education and law) be reconstituted in order to bring about a just and human-centred development on the continent?
- How can universities in Africa become more embedded and responsive to society’s needs and expectations?
More explicitly, the SARChI Chair in Development Education:
- Takes Development Education as a systems pedagogy that goes beyond post colonial studies and theorizations to transformative interventions in knowledge production; teaching and learning; and community engagement.
- Commits to transforming the university from an ivory tower to a Civic Space within which knowledge production and partnerships with African society come together within a paradigm of restorative action.
- Leadership Building through post-graduate training is explicitly a trans-disciplinary process.
The concept of an International Observatory on Human Development gives expression to the commitment of the Chair to:
- build a community of thinkers and world level strategists capable of making purposive, bold and sustained developmental interventions.
- provide an interactive space where the university links with and engages other stakeholders including holders of indigenous knowledge (an Indigenous Knowledge Systems Advisory Faculty of the SARCHI Chair has been established for this purpose);
- develop a transnational outlook that is grounded in the African perspective.
Backed by a powerful contingent of Emeritus and Distinguished Professors from a wide range of fields such as quantum physics, peace, business ethics, law, economics, and education, the SARChI Observatory on Human Development therefore does not just “observe”. Its aim is to:
- undertake systems level research, engage the academy, and shed transformative light on the constitutive rules governing key disciplinary areas,
- re-examine ideas, norms and practices in the academy in its relationship to African society;
- generate new knowledge and insights across the knowledge spectrum; and
- work to translate them into effective regional, national and institutional strategies.
As a teaching and learning cognitive space, the Chair introduces four transdisciplinary focal areas for theoretical, applied and strategic research explorations, i.e.:
a) Peace and Human Development; (Cultural resources for peace building)
b) Science, Culture and Society; (Science, Plurality and Other Ways of Seeing)
c) Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Innovations (The Conditions for their Integration)
d) Universities and Society in Africa (Rethinking Community Engagement)
The Chair aims at developing methodologies for transformative action at systems level; while generating a new paradigm of cutting edge intellectual work straddling both the social and the natural sciences that will influence thinking in the academic and policy domains both within South Africa and internationally. The publications of the Chair are released through its “Tap Root Series”.
UNISA’s SARChI Chair in Development Education was appointed PASCAL’s South Centre, one of the four global Centres, in the year 2010. The offices are located on the 4th Floor of the Vista Building: 263 Skinner Street in Pretoria. The PASCAL South Centre is directed by Professor Catherine Odora Hoppers, the incumbent of the SARChI Chair in Development Education, and is assisted by:
- Dr Chester Kamuzu Shaba (PhD in Education) who coordinates the Community Engagement programme of the Chair;
- Ms Rutendo Ngara (MSc in Biomedical Engineering) who assists with managing the SARChI Student’s Affairs and supporting the intellectual goals of the Chair;
- Ms Cebisa Nkhumeleni (background in Psychology and Sustainable Development) who manages the administration and links with the National Research Foundation;
- Mr Nai-em Dollie, a journalist, who oversees the press briefs and editorial work of the students; and
- Ms Bendy Leepile who is the Personal Assistant to Professor Hoppers.
The main role of the SARChI Chair as PASCAL’s South Centre is to act as a hub for PASCAL activities within the south, especially on the African continent. This comes at a time when African institutions are beginning to take control of their destiny in terms of rebuilding their connections with their roots in African society. UNISA’s vision of being the African University in the Service of Humanity is testament to this determined position.
In its role as the South Centre, the SARChI Chair will combine PASCAL’s global impetus of committed interventions in place management, learning cities and regional development with its own locally pertinent approach to community engagement through its paradigm of restorative action. Using this paradigm, the Chair will lead the work in systematizing and optimizing the Third Mission of Universities -- Community Engagement -- by pushing for new philosophies of practice, clearer and more coherent methodological strategies in inclusive partnership building, and the development of recognizable instruments enhancing and assessing this third mission.
Furthermore, the SARChI Chair in Development Education has taken the lead within South Africa and internationally, in establishing new ethical parameters on North-South relations. This marks a fundamental shift from the ‘surface partnership and structural subservience’ model that has for many decades, so dominated North-South relations, to a new dispensation where the inner voice of disenfranchisement meets the outer voice of empowerment; and where the inner cry for self determination can now meet the warm embrace of co-determination.