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University of Pretoria postgraduate students impress German funders

The University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted the presidents of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, organisations which have provided funding for at least 41 UP PhD and postdoctoral students since 2010.

“It is good to see that this [relationship with UP] is a thriving example of South Africa-German research collaboration, and that capacity is built up jointly with so many personal links that have grown over so many years and decades,” said DAAD President Professor Joybrato Mukherjee after engaging UP students and academics who are alumni of research programmes funded by the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Prof Mukherjee was joined by Professor Robert Schlögl, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, members of the German parliament, German embassy representatives and directors-general of  foreign affairs and science and technology for a visit to UP’s Hatfield Campus and Javett-UP Art Centre, where they viewed the iconic Mapungubwe Gold Collection. The visit took place on Tuesday, 27 June 2023.

“We come here and see a wonderful bunch of people, alumni of DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, who have established close links in research and research collaborations with German institutions and this university,” Prof Mukherjee said.

The presidents of German funding organisations the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and delegates with UP staff and alumni.

The presidents of German funding organisations the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and delegates with UP staff and alumni.  

DAAD and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation are global players in funding research and individuals. The organisations have funded 18 PhDs at UP’s Social Insects Research Group (also known as the Bee Group, in the Department of Zoology and Entomology) between 2010 and 2020, and nine in 2023. They are also currently funding 14 PhDs in entomology.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation promotes international academic cooperation between excellent scientists and scholars from Germany and abroad. Globally, DAAD has funded more than 2.8 million students and researchers.

“I was very impressed by the quality of the facilities,” Prof Schlögl said after engaging UP students from the Department of Zoology and Entomology. “I was very impressed by the quality of the research, and by the openness of the exchange. It was a great experience for me to be here and see how it works.”

Dr Silindile Maphosa, a recent PhD graduate in biotechnology, said she would not be where she is today without the funding from DAAD, because doing her research would have been unaffordable. She was funded from 2019 and received an extension of funds in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I come from a family that does not have that many graduates. Being first in my family to get a PhD was a huge accomplishment. My parents would obviously not be able to take me through my education as far as I have come, so I am grateful to DAAD,” she said.

Jackson Muyobela, a final-year PhD student in entomology, has been receiving funding from DAAD since 2020. He was also granted an extension after the pandemic. “My dream would not be possible without this kind of support. Paying for PhD studies can be as expensive as half a million. Most of us would not afford to cover the costs of doing such research,” he said.

“It is interesting and also fulfilling to myself to see that the people who have funded me and my students are impressed with what you do,” Professor Yusuf Abdullahi Ahmed, Associate Professor of Zoology and Entomology, said. “The credit goes to our institution, the University of Pretoria. This success story should open more avenues for further collaborative funding. It was interesting to see that the thing they liked most was the recycling of ideas, from the older people to us, and to the students, and that we could say where the students are, what they are doing, and what they are coming for.

“If you look at it closely, you can see that it is not only about the region, but the whole continent at large,” Prof Ahmed continued. “For us, being able to train graduates who are up to par and who can compete with any other person from any part of the globe is the most impressing.”

– Author James Mahlokwane


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