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Vice-Chancellor honours Witsies' outstanding achievements

- Wits University

Recipients of Vice-Chancellor's awards for Teaching, Research and Academic Citizenship honoured at function.

Wits had an “incredible”, “momentous” year, and to be honoured in a year such as 2015, makes you one of the “best of the best”.
This is the message that Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, told the recipients of the 2015 Vice Chancellor’s awards on Tuesday, 15 December.
Handing over the awards at a small ceremony at his house, Habib said Wits excelled in 2015, not just by grabbing headlines for the #FeesMustFall campaign, but also through its research, teaching and social citizenship.

“Wits has become an incredibly special place – at the level of political activity; at the level of research output; at the level of teaching; at the level of citizenship, all kinds of things,” said Habib.

“Our research output is up another 15 or 16%. So, in the last two years, we are up 35%. Our research output now sits above 1500 units, which is the highest in our history. That is a fantastic turnout.”

Several of the University’s academics also were awarded with “A-ratings” from the National Research Foundation, with Professor Achille Mbembe receiving an A1 rating in December.

“I don’t think people realise what it means to be A1,” said Habib. “It means that, effectively, you are at the cutting edge of the world. You are in the top 3 to 5 of the world. That is what it means. You don’t get higher than that.”

In terms of teaching, Wits is producing far more graduates than ever, with 50% of the country’s medical specialists, as well as actuarial scientists being produced at the university.

VC’s Reseach Award

Habib awarded the VC’s research award jointly to Professors Frederick Raal and Christopher Henshilwood this year

“The Committee could not separate the two strongest contestants in the 2015 round and decided to make the award jointly to Henshilwood and Raal.”

Henshilwood, from the Institute of Human Evolution, is the holder of the Thompson Reuters Lifetime Award for being in the top 1% most cited authors in the ‘Social Sciences and General’ Category for 2013 and 2014. He is the holder of an NRF A2 rating. He has been largely responsible for a paradigm shift in his discipline, in that he overturned the previous orthodoxy that modern human behavior first appeared in Europe and has shown beyond reasonable doubt that it emerged from southern Africa, as long as 100,000 years ago.

His interests as an archaeologist, scientist, project leader and teacher encompass the development of complex technology, social systems, subsistence, environment, syntactic language and material culture associated with early Homo sapiens, especially those groups who evolved in southern Africa between 100 000 – 50 000 years ago.

Derick Raal is a Wits product, both as a student (MBBCh in 1981 and a PhD in 2000, with various qualifications in between) and as a career-long employee. Two of many markers as to his standing as a researcher would be an H-index of around 30 and the fact that he is a reviewer for two of the highest impact journals in medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet. Locally, he marches steadily up the NRF rating system, reaching a B2 in the 2014/15 re-rating process.

“One of the astonishing aspects of his research achievements is that he carries a full clinical load and conducts most of his research in his spare time,” said Professor Rob Drennan, director of research at Wits. 

Academic Citizenship – Individual

The individual Academic Citizenship award for 2015 was awarded to Denise Nicholson from the Wits library, for her unique contribution to the educational, library and scholarly community to improve access to knowledge and help build capacity and sustainable communities, both nationally and internationally.

“Her work was beyond the call of duty and raised the international profile of the University,” said Professor Andrew Crouch.

Academic Citizenship - Team

The Team award for Academic Citizenship was awarded to the Centre of Applied Legal Studies for their work on the Marikana massacre, as well as other matters of national importance like the World Heritage Sites and issues of National Heritage.

Teaching award – Team

The VC’s award for teaching went to the Health Systems Dynamics (HSD) Team based in the Biomedical Engineering Research Group in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, who developed a course that was viewed as a unique opportunity for our students. The team had developed practical approaches to introduce Systems Dynamics into medical education in a manner that was well suited to the needs and educational background of Health Science students.

Transformation award

Activate Wits, the SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) student society on campus was the recipient of the VC's Transformation Award.