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SA needs ‘intellectual capital’

- By Kemantha Govender

The agenda set for postgraduate students in 2015 was clear – their research and intellectual contributions are needed to urgently address many of South Africa’s and the world’s challenges.

“Our country has no hope unless we apply our collective minds to the contemporary challenges of society,” said Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal.

Habib addressed about 2 000 postgraduate students at a welcome event held at the Wits Science Stadium on Tuesday, 17 February 2015.

Speaking to what he called a “cosmopolitan and diverse audience”, Habib said if South Africa is to address its own challenges by creating intellectual capital, the number of PhDs produced has to increase drastically. Therefore, in the next ten to five years Wits intends on changing the shape of its student cohorts to reflect a 50-50 split of undergraduate and postgraduate students.

According to Habib, South Africa should be producing at least 5 000 to 6 000 PhDs annually but in 2010 the country only produced approximately 1 400 PhDs.

Currently there are around 31 000 students at Wits, of which 11 000 are postgraduate students. There has been a positive growth in the number of postgraduate enrolments in the past two years. In total Wits enrolled just over 9 800 postgraduates in 2012, 10 067 in 2013, and 10 980 in 2014.

The research input is also increasing year on year. There were 1 300 units (journal articles, books and chapters and proceedings) recorded in 2013, the highest in Wits’ history.

To meet this goal of increasing postgraduate numbers, Wits has set aside R45 million from internal sources of funding for postgraduate scholarships.

Habib also spoke about the university’s vison to revitalise Braamfontein and this included the plan to build new residences in the area. He also mentioned that construction of an IBM Research Laboratory will soon start in Braamfontein. This would be IMB’s second global laboratory in Africa; the first one is in Kenya.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs, reminded students that South Africans are capable of addressing its complex social problems but it would require their intellectual contributions. “You have chosen a life of poverty for the next two or three years but you are studying at a prestigious institution which is home to four Nobel Laureates,” he quipped.

The event was hosted to introduce students, particularly those who are studying at Wits for the first time, to the services on campus such as the libraries, financial aid and sport facilities. There were also exhibitors from outside the university.