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Unisa online - Promoting a culture of research

Mr Mohau Mokoena (Treasurer NSRC), Prof Mamokgethi Setati (Vice-Principal: Research and Innovation), Mr Sabelo Mhlungu (NSRC President) and Ms Rutendo Ngara (Research Coordinator and Doctoral Candidate)

Unisa is creating a new breed of undergraduate students that have a special focus on research. The First Annual Unisa Student Research and Innovation Day was held on 27 August 2012.

The event, held under the theme Thinking out of the Box, was hosted by both the office of Prof Mamokgethi Setati, Vice-Principal: Research and Innovation, and the National Student Representative Council. Prof Setati said that the purpose of the day was to expose undergraduate students to research and create awareness about the importance of research and innovation in our society, and "to afford them an opportunity to engage with researchers in the field of their areas of interest."

Students were asked to choose topics of interest and Unisa brought experts to do presentations on those topics, and they interacted with the experts. CSIR and HSRC were part of the activities of the day and they shared research opportunities that were available to students.

Opening the event, Mr Sabelo Mhlungu, NSRC President said that in the quest towards the development of technologies at Unisa, from next year "all first year module tutorial classes are going to be offered online under what is referred to as gradual introduction of e-learning."

Ms Rutendo Ngara, Research Coordinator and Doctoral Candidate: DST/NRF South African Research College of Graduate Studies delivered her keynote address entitled "Merging Multiple Disciplines and Directions: The Jagged Road to Knowledge Production." In her analysis of knowledge, she said "knowledge can be used as tool, a resource to congregate and create or as a weapon to separate and destroy... knowledge of human behaviour has pitted race against race in the ravages of apartheid, or tribe against tribe in the mutilations of genocide."

In her discussion on knowledge production, she pointed out that research methodologies have largely been influenced by philosophies and theories developed by Western scholars, in cultures totally different from those of Africa and other indigenous societies. She encouraged students to contribute to indigenous knowledge production.

Students, who were there in numbers, were excited to experience the day. Mr Emmanuel Munano, a BCom Economics 2012 graduate, congratulated NSRC members and Prof Mamokgethi Setati for hosting Unisa's first Student Research and Innovation Day. "As a student who has recently graduated at Unisa, I know that undergraduate students were never really exposed to the culture of researching and the act of being innovative, especially in the ODL environment." Munani suggested that this event be hosted annually and that it should cater for the broader Unisa student community in all the other Unisa regions.

Ms Judith Matlou, International Relations and Diplomacy student said that the event was empowering. She congratulated the SRC for coming up with this powerful initiative. "We sometimes feel alone as students because of the nature of the university, which is an ODL institution; so such initiatives fill the gap." She added that the themes that were covered were illuminating and were encouraging in terms of pursuing postgraduate studies and contributing to knowledge production. "I think it would be great if we had it every semester," said Matlou, who now serves in the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Tshwane hub.

Segametsi Songwane, a Unisa student and CSIR researcher said that the event was very informative, challenging and inspiring. "I realised that the university is trying hard to create so many opportunities for students and does not undermine undergraduates, it encourages excellence for every student." She noted that this kind of event might increase the percentage of graduates at the university and the speakers were excellent.

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