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4 September 2015
UWC’s new SARChI Chairs promote Visual History and Health Systems Governance

The University of the Western Cape now holds two more national research chairs: Professor Patricia Hayes is the SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory; and Prof Helen Schneider is the SARChI Chair in Health Systems Governance. No other SARChI chair conducts work in these distinctive fields.

The South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) was established by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) as a strategic intervention to increase scientific research capacity through the development of human resources and the generation of new knowledge, empowering top talent to develop particular fields.

The Chair in Visual History and Theory will explore the challenges faced in visual studies, investigating key methodological and epistemological questions, as well as issues of civil engagement and representation through popular arts or social media.

Prof. Hayes has degrees from the Universities of Oxford, Zimbabwe and Cambridge and is based in the Department of History at UWC. Her doctoral research investigated the pre-colonial history and colonisation of northern Namibia and southern Angola, after which she initiated collaborative research on the South African colonial period in Namibia, including its visual record.

Visual History is an interdisciplinary research niche and postgraduate module initiated by historians in the Faculty of Arts from 1997. Its starting point was to address the huge neglect of rich photographic archives in South Africa and the subcontinent in terms of historical and humanities research, with potential implications for contemporary social and cultural debate.

The Chair in Health Systems Governance will build the field of health policy and systems research, with particular focus on health systems governance. This Chair will provide the opportunity to consolidate a world-class hub in the global south in the emerging field of health policy and systems research, complementing the existing Chair in Health Systems Complexity and Social Change at the UWC School of Public Health – where Prof. Schneider serves as director.

Prof. Schneider is a medical doctor, public health specialist and health systems and policy researcher who has worked for more than 20 years on the problematics of South Africa’s health system. She has been a long-standing active participant in, and commentator on, health and HIV policy in South Africa and has served on, amongst others, the board of the Medical Research Council, the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) and the Department of Health’s Task Team on Primary Health Care Re-engineering.

We are, of course, exceptionally pleased to hear that the University will host two more SARChI chairs, not least because they are committed to some very novel and critical fields of research, but that they are filled by leading women researchers,” said Professor Frans Swanepoel, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Innovation at UWC.

These two chairs form part of the 42 chairs (SARChI-42 coined by Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor) awarded to South African universities following the latest round of SARChI applications.

All 42 awarded chairs are filled by women - an attempt to show how much progress South Africa has made (UNESCO data shows that 42% of South African researchers are women), and also how gender disparity remains a challenge to be addressed (only 30% of researchers with an NRF rating are women, and SA Census data indicates that only 11,3% of the females with post-school education in South Africa are in the areas of natural sciences, computer sciences and engineering).

UWC: Onward and Upward

The award brings UWC’s SARChI chairs to 13 in total – up from just one in 2008. For those keeping score, the other Chairs held by UWC are: Nano-Electrochemistry and Senor Technology, Microbial Genomics, Nuclear Science, Earth Conservation Applications for Water Assessment & Management, Multi-level Government, Law & Policy; Astrophysics –Cosmology and Wavelength  Data; Health Systems: Complexity & Social Change; Bioinformatics; Astrophysics; Land Issues & Poverty Alleviation; Mathematics Education.

Coming on the heels of UWC’s recognition by the Times Higher Education rankings as a world-class university, UWC’s Prof. Marla Tiffin winning a prestigious DST Women in Science Award, SANBI Director Prof Alan Christoffels winning the Hamilton-Naki award for a distinguished research and outreach career, and Professors Andrew Russ Taylor and Romeel Dave receiving NRF A-ratings, the University has a lot to be proud of.

“These awards are testimony to an effective support structure, to UWC’s growing reputation and standing as a research institution of note,” noted Professor Swanepoel, “and to the unique and pioneering nature of the work being done by our scholars.”