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National Research Foundation rates three Witsies for the first time as world leaders in their fields

- Wits University

The NRF has awarded new A-ratings to three Wits academics in the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Health Sciences respectively.

Wits academics to whom the National Research Foundation (NRF) awarded A-ratings in 2022 for the first time include Professor Victor Houliston in the School of Literature, Language and Media; Professor Hilary Janks in the Wits School of Education, and Professor Frederick ‘Derick’ Raal in the School of Clinical Medicine.

In addition, Professor Jean Lubuma joined Wits in January 2022 as a Distinguished Professor in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, with an NRF A2-rating awarded in 2020.

Peer-reviewed and recognised worldwide

The NRF operates a peer review system that considers the impact that individual researchers have had in their field of research in the last eight years.

An NRF A-rating is awarded to “researchers who are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.”

 An A1-rated researcher is a researcher who is recognised by all reviewers as a leading scholar in his/her field internationally for the high quality and wide impact (i.e., beyond a narrow field of specialisation) of his/her recent research outputs.

An A2-rated researcher is recognised by the overriding majority of reviewers as a leading scholar in his/her field internationally for the high quality and impact (either wide or confined) of his/her recent research outputs.

Professor Lynn Morris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, says, “We acknowledge the commitment and research excellence worldwide of our newly A-rated researchers, which brings to 27 the total number of A-rated scientists at Wits. We are inspired by these world-leaders in their fields – as we are by all NRF-rated academics at Wits – who are conducting research for good, particularly at a time when the University celebrates its centenary and works to advance its research agenda.”

Morris is herself an NRF A1-rated scientist. She is one of two A-rated scientists on Wits’ Senior Executive Team; the other is Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Director of Wits VIDA.

A history of religion in English literature

Emeritus Professor Victor Houliston in English Studies in the School of Literature, Language and Media (SLLM) received an NRF A1 rating in 2022. He has taught in the English department at Wits since 1988. He was appointed Professor Emeritus at the end of 2019 and continues to be active in research and in directing graduate writing programmes. He has recently enrolled as a student in the MA in Creative Writing at Wits.

 Wits Professor of English Victor Houliston left with Emilio Chuvieco, Professor of Geography at the University of Alcalá, Spain, at the door of the Robert Persons room at Campion Hall, Oxford. Persons wrote several letters from Alcalá de Henares, one of the greatest centres of academic excellence in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.

Houliston’s status as a leading researcher in early modern literature and history has been cemented in recent years through the publication of the first volume of his edition of the Correspondence of Robert Persons, a highly controversial figure in Elizabethan England. As the superior of the Jesuit mission to Protestant England, he took great risks. Persons himself escaped to the continent, where he founded seminaries and wrote numerous books attacking the Elizabethan regime. Houliston’s edition has been described as one of the most important editorial projects in Renaissance studies in recent years. The second volume is soon to be published, and a third is in preparation.

Recognition of research in language, literacy and power

The NRF awarded Emeritus Professor Hilary Janks an A2 rating in 2022. Janks has 47 years of experience in English education in a multilingual context – six years as a secondary school English teacher and 41 years as a teacher educator. Her qualifications are in English Literature and Applied Linguistics, the latter after she recognised the importance of educating teachers to work in diverse, integrated, multi-graded classrooms in post-apartheid South Africa.

Professor Hilary Janks from the Wits School of Education

Janks’ research focuses on the relationship between language, literacy and power. Her work in critical literacy in the South African context contributed to People’s English locally and the development of critical literacy internationally. Critical literacy is now taught in teacher education courses in South Africa and is part of the national curriculum for the FET phase of education. Janks remains active as a researcher and as a teacher of postgraduate students at universities in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Scotland, Sweden, and the US.

“I have been a B1 researchers since 2002 and I am thrilled to receive an A-rating with which to end my career”, she says.

Mathematical modelling of infectious diseases

Professor Jean Lubuma joined Wits in January 2022 as a Distinguished Professor in the School of School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. An A2-rated researcher since 2020, Lubuma joins Wits from the University of Pretoria where he was Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (2015-2019), founding holder of the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Mathematical Models and Methods in Bioengineering and Biosciences from (2013-2015) and Head of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics (2004-2013).

Jean Lubuma Distinguished Professor in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics

Lubuma’s research area is ordinary and partial differential equations and integral equations. The emphasis is on the quantitative, qualitative and computational analysis of models that arise in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET). This includes life sciences, where he models natural processes, specifically emerging and re-emerging human infectious diseases such as cholera, Covid-19, Ebola, Hepatitis B, HIV/Aids, malaria, syphilis and tuberculosis.

“I am excited about my appointment at Wits. This is for me an excellent opportunity to create a vibrant research network to provide adequate responses to new diseases and to old forms of new diseases such as Covid-19, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases that pose a massive threat to the development of the African continent,” says Lubuma.

The world’s largest cohort of FH patients

The NRF awarded Professor Derick Raal an A1 rating in 2022. His research interest is lipid disorders, particularly familial or inherited hypercholesterolaemia (FH). The major focus of his research remains the clinical, biochemical, genetic and therapeutic management of this condition.

Professor Derick Raal

Raal is Head of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and Director of the Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism Research Unit in the Department of Internal Medicine in the School of Clinical Medicine. Research in the unit includes the epidemiological, clinical and biochemical aspects of common diseases affecting lipid, and glucose metabolism in the different ethnic groups of Southern Africa. These include FH and other lipid disorders, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus as well as other related metabolic disorders. The unit is nationally and internationally recognised for its work on FH and has one of the largest cohorts of homozygous FH patients in the world. 

In addition to an NRF A1-rating, Raal was one of the Faculty’s most highly cited researchers in 2019 and 2021. Highly cited researchers publish in ISI indexed journals and their highly cited and hot papers are ranked in the top 1% and 0.1% of all articles by number of citations, respectively.