Development studies at UCT has been around for a while.
Students have long been able to seek knowledge related to development in their own faculties and departments, from economics to sociology. But on 3 March 2017, the university offered a one-stop shop for development studies within its halls for the first time, when the Studying Development website and handbook were launched at the School of Economics.
The publication of the handbook is a way to recognise that higher education is not just about producing graduates who are ready for the job market, said Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, UCT's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation.
“It's also making sure that we produce graduates who are relevant to the context,” she said. “For us in Africa, it's even more important.”
As the country grapples with issues of decoloniality and so on, students that can tussle with development problems are crucial, Phakeng added.
“It is important that all our graduates understand and appreciate the role that historical, social and political analysis plays in interpreting complex development problems. [It] doesn't matter which faculty they come from.”
Development studies critical to decolonisation
UCT is ranked joint-ninth with Stanford University for development studies in the QS World University Rankings 2016/2017.
Being ranked so high in the world for development studies shows that UCT understands what development studies is about, said Phakeng.
“Often we think decolonisation is about bringing back the past and erasing something – I know it's not about that. But in terms of graduate attributes, development studies play a key role. I know what I wouldn't have known if I hadn't done development studies.”
Professor Anthony Black, the economist who played a leading role in putting the handbook together, praised Lukhanyo Velelo, a commerce postgraduate student “who did all the work” (according to Black), and Judy Favish, former director of UCT's Institutional Planning Department, “who really drove it”.
Grouping development studies like this was an expression of a desire for “scientists to focus on development, for economists to maybe think about energy”, said Black.
Plans are afoot for an interdisciplinary MPhil in development to be pioneered at UCT, said Professor Murray Leibbrandt, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Poverty and Inequality. And there are plans for a mammoth conference that will draw together world leaders in development studies, which might take some two years to organise, said Professor Edgar Pieterse, chair of the African Centre for Cities.
Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Michael Hammond.
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