Realising a vision of excellence
The University of the Free State (UFS) has excelled over recent years as a research-led, student-centred, and regionally engaged university that contributes to development and social justice through the production of globally competitive graduates and knowledge.
In the face of unprecedented changes and challenges in the higher education sector, the UFS’ commitment to excellence and transformation has been steadfast, enabling it to remain modern and relevant, and to contribute effectively towards societal development – regionally, nationally, and globally. This commitment has enabled the UFS to steadily improve its performance in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, where it currently ranks between 801 and 1 000.
A vision established: Where we come from
Established in 1904, the UFS is one of the oldest and most esteemed institutions of higher education in South Africa, with close to 40 000 students housed in 7 faculties on 3 diverse campuses. It has a proud legacy of balancing time-tested values with a progressive quest for continuous transformation. Among its transformation initiatives was the Integrated Transformation Plan (ITP) – a comprehensive, far-reaching strategy to widen the scope and radically accelerate transformation – introduced in 2017. It featured a systematic process of curriculum review that interrogated the marginalisation of particular identities and philosophies of knowledge, incorporating scholarship from Africa and the Global South. It also prioritised improving student success, enhancing the visibility of the university’s societal engagement, and strengthening its administrative systems to develop robust, stable, and socially just processes that underpin its operational structures. In this way, the UFS expressed its commitment to being a university that strives for social justice in everything it does, where diverse people feel a sense of common purpose, and where the symbols and spaces, systems and daily practices all reflect commitment to openness and engagement. Its legacy of sustained transformation laid the groundwork for Vision 130 – its current progressive and ambitious institutional strategy centred around maximum societal impact.
A vision being realised: Where we are
The UFS vision of excellence, impact, and inclusivity has transpired in developments and achievements in various areas.
Student success and well-being
A characteristic that sets the UFS apart and which has enabled it to record among the highest academic success rates in the country is its comprehensive strategies around providing student support, which transpires in student success. Innovative initiatives range from academic support in the form of tutorial programmes, writing and language support and academic advising, to providing for students’ most basic needs through the No Student Hungry Bursary Programme. The UFS also places great emphasis on students’ mental health and well-being, with workshops and professional counselling services, as well as various peer mentoring initiatives. A vibrant, active student life combined with stringent safety and security initiatives ensures social cohesion and an outstanding university experience.
The UFS enhances the employability of its students with the systematic mapping of graduate attributes in its curricular and co-curricular offerings. This ensures that graduates display the relevant skills, competencies, knowledge, and attitudes essential for success in the global workplace. The UFS is a beneficiary of the esteemed Kresge Foundation, sponsor of the Siyaphumelela project, which harnesses data analytics to promote student success. The university is also a proud grant recipient of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which enables it to scale its virtual services to reach a maximum number of students.
Developing young academics
The UFS places a strong emphasis on developing the careers of young scholars, with focused initiatives for providing peer mentorship and reviewing opportunities for junior staff members. Among these initiatives are the Prestige Scholars Programme and the Transforming the Professoriate Mentoring Programme, where emerging scholars get tailor-made, comprehensive, and holistic development opportunities in preparation for their future roles as professors and academic leaders. The university’s focus is on retaining internationally recognised staff, while incorporating an aggressive approach to attracting experts with a global reputation in their field.
Innovative approaches to energy and water management
The UFS uses its strategic position to drive sustainability issues through the establishment of green campuses and the adoption of sustainable built environment practices. It aims to continuously renew, rejuvenate, regenerate, and revisit facilities and infrastructure. This has taken the form of establishing energy-efficient buildings, extensive solar energy plants, waterwise landscaping, as well as water saving initiatives such as greywater systems, water restrainers, and pressure control systems. A clear indication that these measures are yielding positive results is the fact that energy consumption has decreased by 14,5% since 2017, despite the fact that the gross surface area of the university has grown by 8,8%. UFS carbon emissions have also shown a significant reduction – from 0.115 CO2/m2 in 2013 to 0.088 CO2/m2 in 2022 – making it a frontrunner in low carbon emissions among South African higher education institutions.
The UFS is a highly internationalised university with a proud history of international engagements. It prioritises the preservation and growth of staff and student diversity and attracts the most brilliant minds from across the globe. As a responsible global citizen, the UFS uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a primary lens to assess and expand its global impact.
Achievements in research
The UFS is steadily increasing the number, quality, diversity, and output of its research scholars, making significant contributions to global knowledge in various fields in line with its aspiration to be a research-led university.
Areas of Excellence:
- Academy for Multilingualism – developing innovative multilingual pedagogies in pursuit of social justice
- Afromontane Research Unit – promoting comprehensive international research aimed at uplifting vulnerable mountain communities
- Boyden Observatory and Naval Hill Planetarium – displaying and communicating South Africa’s astronomical heritage
- Centre for Gender and Africa Studies – providing an inter-faculty approach to understanding Africa and gender issues
- Centre for Microscopy – implementing cutting-edge electron microscopy equipment for globally competitive research
- Clinical Simulation and Skills Unit – enhancing the education and training of medical and nursing students, as well as the safety of patients, by implementing the very latest simulation technology
- FARMOVS – conducting world-class clinical research for renowned international clients in the pharmaceutical industry for the past 50 years
- Free State Centre for Human Rights – drawing together multidisciplinary academics, practitioners, and activists to provide excellence in human rights studies
- Interdisciplinary Centre for Digital Futures – providing a unique collaborative, co-creative space, where role players from different sectors can drive the digital future responsibly and critically for the benefit of society
- International Studies Group – accessing prestigious international research opportunities for high-calibre postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows from across the world
- Institute for Groundwater Studies – leading the field in sustainable management of groundwater resources in Africa
- Merensky Group for Aerial Geological Image Classification (MAGIC) Laboratory – developing progressive drone-based geological imaging in South Africa
- National Control Laboratory for Biological Products – performing vaccine testing for the World Health Organisation
- Next Generation Sequencing Unit – providing impactful research within the field of genomics sequencing
- Robert WM Frater Cardiovascular Research Centre – leading cardiovascular research in sub-Saharan Africa
- Science Education Centre – driving professional development for teachers, learner support, and parent empowerment
- South African Doping Control Laboratory – providing international testing against doping in sport, as the only WADA-accredited laboratory in Africa
- UFS Law Clinic – merging impactful pro bono litigation with practical student training, as one of only a handful of university law clinics in South Africa
UFS Research Chairs:
- City Region Economies (SARChI)
- Pathogenic Yeasts (SARChI)
- Vector-borne and Zoonotic Pathogens (SARChI)
- Disease Resistance and Quality in Field Crops (SARChI)
- Solid-State Luminescent and Advanced Materials (SARChI)
- Higher Education and Human Development (SARChI)
- Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology Education (SANRAL)
A vision evolving – Where we are going
The UFS transformation agenda has evolved into a new institutional strategy that marks renewal and re-imagination for even greater impact as a centre for innovation, research, dissemination, and application. Vision 130 is the UFS’ road map towards repositioning itself for 2034, when it celebrates 130 years of excellence.
Building on its transformation achievements, the UFS wants to continue growing and extending its influence and impact locally, regionally, and globally – focusing on academic excellence, quality and impact, maximum societal impact with sustainable relations, and establishing itself as a diverse, inclusive, and equitable university. This consistent outward focus, striving to be profound in all it delivers, positions the UFS to realise its motto of inspiring excellence and transforming lives through quality, impact, and care. DM
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