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31 March 2022
UWC Prof Appointed as the New Research Chair in Maths and Applied Maths

Professor David Holgate has been appointed as the University of the Western Cape (UWC) Research Chair in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics for the period 2022-2024.

He believes UWC can play an essential role in graduating students in mathematics and generating a love for mathematics' beauty, breadth, and depth.

“I hope that the research chair will demonstrate that a disadvantaged past doesn’t mean that you must accept second-rate mathematics,” said Prof Holgate. “I have always said that if South Africa is going to succeed, then UWC needs to succeed. And here mathematicians would say it is a ‘necessary condition’.”

The chair aims to establish UWC as a recognised national hub for contemporary topology research that also promotes and investigates undergraduate mathematics education and enhances the pipeline of graduates with advanced mathematical competence.

“I called the research chair “Topology for Tomorrow” as I wanted to focus not only on topology research but also on building a future for the discipline. That future is not only of importance for UWC but for pure mathematics and university mathematics education within South Africa. I believe strongly in collaboration, and so will place a strong emphasis on working with researchers - in particular early-career academics - across the country, but based at UWC. It is motivating to establish UWC as a centre for mathematics, a subject that too many people think is beyond an institution with our history.”

Prof Holgate has held an NRF B-rating for the past ten years as a research mathematician specialising in Topology and Category Theory. Beyond his pure mathematics research, he has a formidable reputation as an innovative teacher and champion of research and best practice in undergraduate education. 

He recently completed an extended term as Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Natural Sciences. He was also the Head of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. He is looking forward to bringing this experience together with the team behind the new research chair. 

“I don’t like to ‘blow my own trumpet’, but holding an NRF B-rating certainly helps confirm my international standing too, and the chair is also built on a vision for what can be achieved and a track record of guiding postgraduate students and providing leadership in the university context. Having a strong research team and a vision for not only producing top-flight research, but also building a pipeline of students and young academics, was a crucial part of being selected for the position,” he explained. 

“While the appointment recognises and acknowledges an individual, the responsibility is to build research activity in the identified speciality. That activity goes well beyond the individual’s personal research. So, it is about building with colleagues and postgraduate students. It is about bringing expertise to UWC in order to build research capacity and advance this important area of mathematics.”

He said he is grateful for the opportunity to bring different aspects of his career together and is excited to share his love for the subject with others. 

“Here at UWC, I have been motivated by what my colleagues and students have achieved in what became known as the “UWC Mathematics Turnaround Project”. Their work with undergraduate students demonstrated that the attitude of the students toward mathematics helped them take more responsibility for their own learning and in turn, the growth of mathematics at UWC. This has led to real growth of mathematical activity at UWC.

“I have also been motivated by the quality of recent academic appointments in our department. I think this demonstrates that UWC is more and more being considered as a place to do mathematics research.”

“I think as academic scholars we should all live at the nexus of research and education. I have always said that in order to be a good scholar you need to contribute in both directions. “Mathematics is particularly important because it opens so many doors and is fundamental to science in particular, but to so many areas of education and development in general. There is also a degree of stigma or elitism associated with mathematics that needs to be broken down. We need to get to a point where mathematics is not celebrated just because of its utility but because of its beauty and general appeal. That will release more creativity and passion that need to be injected into growing the subject.”