New Research Chair: Biotechnology

The new Research Chair of CPUT’s Institute of Biomedical and Microbial Biotechnology (IBMB) plans to take the institute to the next level over the next five years.

Prof Jeanine Marnewick is no stranger to the IBMB, having previously served as co-chair to Prof Wentzel Gelderblom.

Marnewick, who also heads up the Oxidative Stress Research Centre in the Faculty of Health and Wellness Sciences, made the headlines in 2011 when her clinical trial revealed that drinking six cups of rooibos per day holds definite health benefits, and specifically helps to reduce oxidative stress in the body and improves the cholesterol profile – all aspects that modulate the development of heart disease.

She said the Institute’s main focus this year would be a review process of the past five years and setting up a new five-year business plan. “The institute will be reviewed by international reviewers and with that we will also devise the new business plan for the next five years. We have to see that the research we are doing is correctly focused. Apart from our own RTI (Research and Technology Innovation) blueprint, a big role player is the United Nations-driven sustainable development goals initiative. They recognise 17 goals that’s important for sustainability. We are aligning our research to these goals,” she said.

“I feel strongly that our research should be research that can be applied and not just research for the sake of doing research. Our communities have to benefit and that is our biggest driving force.”

The institute has six NRF-rated scientists, two of whom are B1 rated, and is encouraging all its researchers to obtain their rating, ensuring that postgraduate students have access to the best in the field.

“Our research output has also been very good over the past four years. We’ve had an average of about 20 journal articles per annum while conference attendance averaged about 15 national and 15 international conferences. We are always striving for a good balance, 1:1:1 between conferences and publications. We’ve grown international collaborations significantly, including with institutions in Hungary, France and Germany and the USA while we have established good relationships with local industry.”

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Education crisis examined

Teacher trade unions, education NGOs, academics and former government official squared up at a recent lively public seminar to discuss the country’s education crisis.

Hosted by the Centre for International Teacher Education at the Mowbray Campus, the centre’s director, Prof Yusuf Sayed, said research shows that half of learners who enter the schooling system drop out before they reach matric and that even fewer make it to university.

Sayed added that learners in Grade three lack literacy skills as well as inequality among rich and poor schools were compounding the crisis.

South African Democratic Teachers Union Provincial Secretary Jonavin Rustin took the audience through the purpose of education, promises which were made by the transitional government in the build-up to 1994, the current problems as well as interventions that have since been implemented.

Rustin argued that teachers are not adequately trained and therefore there is a need to focus on teaching practice; mentoring, coaching and induction of student and novice teachers.

He says the poor conditions of service and lack of infrastructure at schools were contributing to the low morale of teachers.

Because learners are being over-tested by the department, this was stealing contact time away from teachers who have to administer the various assessments, says Rustin.