New UP research facility, Future Africa, under construction

MARKO SVICEVIC

A new research facility for UP, Future Africa, is currently under construction on the UP experimental farm.

The initiative, spearheaded by UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, aims to create a space for the research community to initiate transdisciplinary research with relevance to Africa, and to train a new generation of research leaders who are able to lead the transformation of science and innovation systems on the continent for just and sustainable development. Conceptualisation of the project began in 2014 and construction started in November 2015.

The Future Africa complex comprises of a number of buildings, of which the largest section will be accommodation. An estimated eight blocks will consist of 265 units with 280 beds, which will aim to fill the gap in post-doctoral and visiting scholars accommodation at UP. Some of the accommodation is also uniquely designed to cater for researchers who already have families. Another block on the campus will be dedicated to short stay visitors, such as those who visit UP for conferences or guest lectures. A conference centre on the campus will accommodate about 200 people.

“The main administration building is designed to incorporate social learning and collaborative environments. Much of the building has an open plan design that allows people to collaborate across boundaries”, said Project Manager Amelia Cilliers. A fully equipped dining hall will provide catering for residences, conferences and meetings on the campus. The campus will also include state of the art technology for online engagement, a suite of breakaway rooms for brainstorming sessions and discussions, and two 50 seater executive lecture rooms. The initiative has been approved by both the executive and senate.

According to Prof. de la Rey, “There are a multitude of complex challenges that face the world and Africa. Due to their complex nature, the traditional singular, linear approaches to science are no longer appropriate. To address these problems, a transdisciplinary approach is required, which integrates perspectives across disciplines, scales and sectors. Although the need for transdisciplinary research is being recognised globally, there is still a shortage of spaces that encourage and enable collaboration of scientists from different disciplines.”

“Prof. Stephanie Burton, [UP Vice- Principal responsible for Research and Postgraduate Education], and Prof. Anton Stroh, [UP Vice-Principal of Institutional Planning], are supporting the operationalisation of the facility. Prof. Bernard Slippers and Prof. Lorenzo Fioramonti are acting as interim director and deputy director respectively of Future Africa, and are also leading the Africa and UP-focused science leadership programmes already initiated through Future Africa,” said Cilliers. She adds that the process to appoint an academic director is currently under way. Cilliers explained that “The aim for next year is to host a number of colloquiums and to stimulate research projects, which are relevant for Africa and aligned with areas of research strength at UP.” At a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the new facility, Prof. de la Rey said “we are marking the beginning of what is truly a ground breaking project from a number of different perspectives. It’s one that I believe is distinct, unique and pioneering, and particularly pioneering in our aim to be responsive to a changing African context while at the same time recognising that we must position African higher education at the cutting edge of science at a global level.” Prof. de la Rey added that the project entailed bringing three hundred young talented people who would not only undertake doctoral research but also “following a leadership journey, a journey that hopefully will prepare them to do better than we have as a generation”.

“The building project is about 70% complete already, all buildings are at roof level and construction of the conference centre (phase two) has just begun,” said Cilliers.

“Some sections will be finished by this year, the entire complex is expected to be completed by roughly May next year and we hope to go fully operational by the second semester of next year,” adds Cilliers. Although it is yet to be confirmed, the official opening of the facility is set to take place in July 2018.

 

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