Breaking barriers on the fast track

Prof Safia Mahomed, Department of Jurisprudence, College of Law

Safia Mahomed, recently appointed Associate Professor in the College of Law’s Department of Jurisprudence, is the only Unisa staff member currently involved in the Future Professors Programme (FPP) (Phase 01) of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The FPP, which is committed to developing the next-generation transformed professoriate, is made up of fellows from 23 universities across South Africa.

The FPP is a national programme of the Department of Higher Education and Training that offers a structured curriculum, including intensive seminars and international placements aimed at accelerating the readiness of young academics for the professoriate. The first seminar, hosted at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study during the first quarter of 2020, included a variety of intensive sessions. One such session, entitled "On becoming a scholar", included an introduction of the South African professoriate by Dr Diane Parker (DHET). This was followed by presentations highlighting accelerated scholarship, metrics, rating, evaluation and pathways to scholarly excellence. Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela ("My scholarship journey: Lessons learnt") and Prof Jonathan Jansen ("On becoming a scholar") were the guest speakers.

Subsequently, the Covid-19 pandemic and the new and uncertain circumstances accompanying it have necessitated a response from the FPP in terms of both timing and approach, while keeping the substance of the engagement unchanged. Since the lockdown, the lead implementers have undertaken a series of extended conversations with the cohort, connecting on matters of professional and domestic circumstances, research and other work, and gauging and supporting how fellows are negotiating the radically altered teaching environment.

Essentially, these conversations became an alternative for the site visits to fellows at their universities that were scheduled for March/April 2020. They also served the purpose of binding the cohort as a group. The conversations continue on a weekly basis and are uniformly uplifting. They also testify to the extent that the pandemic not only requires flexibility and novel solutions to re-imagine teaching and the academic year, but represents a deep existential re-evaluation of the professional and personal identity of the FPP fellows.

What attributes does a future professor have?

  • A deep commitment to the pursuit of advanced scholarship.
  • Evidence of productive and imaginative scholarly work.
  • Early signs of purpose and direction in academic work.
  • Novelty, richness and a willingness to take risks in the pursuit of large ideas.
  • Personal qualities of self-awareness, teachability, and the need to grow.
  • Evidence of resilience and persistence in the face of setbacks.
  • A willingness to benefit from and contribute to a community of scholars.

The FPP fellows are assuming the role of the future South African professoriate. For this reason, informal engagements are interspersed with topics that allow fellows to showcase their intellectual projects and display their ingenuity and responsiveness to the current crisis. These conversations take place via Zoom and will be formalised in the second semester, starting with a continuation of the autobiographical session initiated by Gobodo-Madikizela in February 2020. The most recent speaker in the seminar series was Prof Crain Soudien of the Human Sciences Research Council.

The first six months of the programme have already offered strong evidence of the kinds of qualities the next generation of South African professors will embody: resilience, a spirit of collaboration and resource sharing, respect for and encouragement of interdisciplinary research, and blue sky thinking.

Mahomed says the following about her involvement in the FPP:

"It has been an incredible journey thus far being coached and mentored by some of the most esteemed academics in the field and associating with ambitious, inspiring young academics. The accumulated talent and potential which make up the fabric of the cohort are unprecedented. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity."

* Interview by Ngwako Mokgotho, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Law

Publish date: 2020-08-06 00:00:00.0