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UWC Research Week 2020: Global Impact, Local Relevance – And Making A Difference

Author: Nicklaus Kruger & Melanie Snyders

Research impact refers to the effect research has outside academia – the positive effect it can have on the world around us. UWC Research Week 2020 celebrates the University’s research impact on local, regional and global scales – and urges us to do more.

(Published - 1 October 2020)

“In a globalised world, we face wicked problems like COVID-19 – ongoing challenges that are impacting all of us, and that are too big for any one country to solve on their own. Solutions require thinking and acting beyond national boundaries – but we also need to keep in mind local contexts, and how those challenges and solutions express themselves in that context.”

That, in a nutshell, is the theme of the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC)Research Week 2020, as expressed by Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo, former Deputy Director at UNESCO for Lifelong Learning and Head of the Education Unit of the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa.

UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor José Frantz, is the driving force behind the event, which brings together local and international academics to discuss everything from children’s perspectives on their wellbeing to preventing amputation for diabetes patients.

“At its simplest, research impact refers to the effect or influence that research has outside of academia – the positive effect it can have on the world around us,” Prof Frantz said. “UWC Research Week 2020 celebrates the University’s research impact on a local, regional and even global scale – and urges us to do even more. Engage us as partners as we focus on global impact and local relevance as our theme, discussing global citizenship, economic and environmental sustainability, health and education and promoting an inclusive society.”

Medel-Anonuevo provided a glimpse into the context surrounding global research, and the global trends for higher education: massification, marketisation, diversification, corporatisation, bureaucratisation, and – especially – internationalisation.

 “South African Development Community (SADC) students are among the most mobile students in Africa, and even worldwide, with six out of every 100 studying outside their home countries,” she noted. “That means a lot of students sharing different perspectives, building opportunities for international collaboration and cooperation, and becoming global citizens – enhancing the quality of higher education as a whole.”

One of those global citizens is Mologadi Makwela, PhD candidate and celebrated communications manager at the NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, whose work explores the media coverage of the land expropriation debate in South Africa.

“Where I grew up, the questions that keep you up at night are not the big, abstract questions many academics are so fond of,” Makwela noted. “They are questions about where your next meal will come from; concerns about missing a taxi to work; worries about how to handle family and other responsibilities. A large number of us in this country are concerned about surviving to see the next day, getting jobs, paying it forward – so we can’t be concerned about the big research questions facing the world.”

But those questions allow us to make sense of our lives. And the big advantage of a global perspective, she said, is that it uses the unfamiliar – thinking globally – to make the familiar – local challenges – strange. And when those challenges can be viewed from another perspective, our blind spots can be exposed, and new solutions can emerge.

“On a recent visit to the University of Missouri, I took a case study familiar to me and tried to explain it to Professor Ben Warner, my UM supervisor, to whom it was unfamiliar,” she said. “I had to stretch my thinking to try to make it relevant to his context – and in doing that, I came to see it in a different light myself, and found a way to make the final output locally impactful, yes…but also globally relevant.”

Professor Rodney Uphoff certainly knows the value of internationalisation for broadening minds. As an internationally renowned law academic and criminal justice lawyer, UWC Extraordinary Professor, and Director of the University of Missouri South African Education Programme (UMSAEP), Prof Uphoff has nearly fifty years of international research and collaboration beneath his belt.

“I became the Director of the UWC/UM Education Programme in 2006, and it’s been a joy and a delight to be in that position for over 14 years now,” he said. “We’ve had over 900 faculty and student exchanges, across disciplines, and I think those teaching and research collaborations have worked to the benefit of both institutions. On both ends, students and staff have come away far richer, with a better understanding not just of the other country, but of their own as well–and a better appreciation for the shared values that most people around the world have.”

UWC Research Week 2020 has gone digital with a host of webinars from Monday, 28 September to Friday, 2 October. For the first time, UWC’s Research Week will conclude with a virtual Research and Recognition Awards ceremony to honour the university’s top researchers. Find out more (and register) at https://www.uwc.ac.za/Announcements/Pages/UWC-Research-Week-2020-Global-Impact,-Local-Relevance-28-September-to-02-October-2020.aspx.


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