The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) new Vice-Chancellor Research Scholarship will fully support and develop the institution’s top young researchers to position them at the forefront of research into society’s most pressing challenges.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng congratulated the first 100 awardees, representing all six academic faculties, at the scholarship launch on 30 May.
These excellence awards recognise “exceptional academic achievements” among UCT’s master’s and doctoral students registered for research degrees. The scholarships cover the full cost of attendance at UCT.
In recognition of their academic achievements, all awardees will also receive an additional R5 000, unless the conditions of their other award/s specifically preclude this.
As these scholarships will be allocated at the beginning of each year, after other UCT funding instruments have been awarded, they will not replace alternative funding such as the UCT postgraduate merit or need awards, but will be held concurrently as a supplement.
The development follows months of work by the Postgraduate Task Team, launched in 2017 and chaired by Professor Nicci Illing, to develop and retain UCT’s future stars.
“You are just what UCT is looking for to help build the future of a research-intensive university.”
Speaking at the launch at Smuts Hall, Phakeng told the awardees: “You have been selected for this scholarship because of the high standards you have demonstrated in your academic work.
“In other words, you are just what UCT is looking for to help build the future of a research-intensive university.
“We are committed to helping you build on your excellence and we hope that as a result you will find your way to world-changing research.”
She said that humanity faces global-sized challenges: climate change, human migration across national boundaries, urbanisation, extinction of species that will affect the food chain as well as our environment, and growing poverty and inequality.
Building the future
She encouraged early career researchers to build “critical networks” around the world to deepen their knowledge.
“When we negotiate exchange agreements with partner universities around the world, we prioritise postgraduate students … so they can gain exposure to global scholarship and build international networks.
“We want you to stay with us but also have international experience,” Phakeng said.
However, there are many advantages to the students furthering their research careers locally, she added.
“As South Africans you have a perspective of the world that most other researchers in your field anywhere else in the world will not have. That’s an advantage because you can see first-hand the results of poverty and inequality.
“Whether you have experienced it yourself or not, you have experience of people that are affected in some way by HIV/AIDS, TB, depression, unemployment, climate change … You have something to offer that many other researchers in the world lack because they did not grow up here, they do not live here.
“Our view at UCT is that these problems are opportunities for leading transformation and leading change across the world.”
UCT’s young researchers, Phakeng stressed, are in a prime position to conduct research that transforms South Africa and the continent by “showcasing and drawing on the tremendous talent that Africa can offer the world”.
“One of my goals is to build a cohort of researchers who can take UCT to the world and bring the world to UCT.”
“One of my goals is to build a cohort of researchers who can take UCT to the world and bring the world to UCT.
“This is not just about money … It’s about the recognition of extraordinary talent that you bring to our university and what that talent means for the continent.
“We called this event just to say to you that we want you to realise that if you do nothing about the challenges we are facing at UCT, in South Africa, on the continent and in the world, perhaps no one will.”
Sustainable Development Goals initiative
Underscoring the importance of research to realising the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Phakeng said that UCT’s Research Office is developing a UCT SDG initiative under the leadership of Professor Haroon Bhorat. This will profile the breadth and depth of SDG-related research at UCT.
“Next year we plan to host a conference titled ʻAchieving the SDGs in Africa: A decade to make a difference’. This will be supported by online resources – a website and a searchable database – so that the world can see cutting-edge research that focuses on SDGs.”
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