North-West University Emerging As An African Research Hub

Building on increasing international recognition from ranking agencies, South Africa’s North-West University (NWU) is positioning itself for increased engagement with the private sector both within South African and across the African continent.

The institution has long been fostering a culture of research & development. Recently, researchers at the university have been working with colleagues from private sector companies to jointly develop, commercialise and patent products.

The university is recognised in particular for quality subject offerings in the fields of atmospheric science, clinical medicine, education, hospitality and tourism management, and public health.

In addition to research projects with private industry, the university has engaged with African governments on environmental and engineering science research projects.

Prof. Dan Kgwadi

Prof Dan Kgwadi

In an interview with AfricaLive.net the university vice-chancellor, Prof. Dan Kgwadi, made clear his ambition for the university to be positioned as a leading hub of African research as the continent moves into the fourth industrial revolution. Key points from the interview include;

On Working With Industry Leaders:

“We are working to make things right so as to remain relevant and competitive. Our infrastructure must support the consumption of ICT through long-distance programmes which will solve the issue of access.

Special attention must also be given to the relevance of our overall product. Our curriculum is being redone in conjunction with industries to come up with a better product. The process is happening through regular meetings with industrial representatives to ensure we get input and feedback.

“Meetings with industry officials have helped us considerably close the gap between academia and industry, which is seen in most jurisdictions.

The law fraternity in South Africa for instance, has made it clear to us that they are unhappy with the calibre of lawyers being produced in the country. Discussions with the likes of them help us create new curriculums or revise current ones for the good of the country.” 

On Research & Development:

“We have to be as open as possible to new ideas and technologies to secure our future. We have to make an impact with our science and technology focus, as well as in our social sciences agenda.

We have wide-ranging niche areas that are all geared towards helping our government and private sector resolve challenges. Our institution has thirty-four niche research entities with our newest one looking at environmental matters.”

On the Commercialisation of Research:

“One of my deputy vice-chancellors has a title that includes research and innovation. The creation of a research and innovation position at deputy vice-chancellor level shows how much we value the discipline. We have seen the creation of entities birthed from partnerships between our researchers and industries.

“Our researchers and their counterparts from the industry come together and do activities that attract funding while utilising our facilities here. Through these synergies, we have been able to create products that have been successfully commercialised.

We are also working with governments within the continent on environmental and engineering science projects. Some of the products we are producing are becoming very popular, and we are finalising procedures that will see us patent them.”

Explore the North-West University Content Hub on AfricaLive.net to see how the university is engaging in critical research to uplift the African continent. Key features:

NWU Heads SA Core Team in Fight against Neuromuscular Diseases

The social and economic impact of neuromuscular diseases (NMDs) is staggering.

These diseases, which include motor neuron disease and muscular dystrophies, can cause premature death or lifelong disability and are believed to affect one in every 400 people – meaning about 20 million children and adults across the globe.

There is hope on the international front, however. Precise genetic diagnoses, gene discoveries and new therapies are having a positive impact on patient care and well-being in developed countries.

This is not yet the case in developing countries with under-studied populations such as South Africa, where more research is desperately needed to develop effective genetic diagnoses and treatments for rare inherited disorders such as NMDs.

This is where the North-West University (NWU) is playing an important role, both as partner in an international collaborative study and as coordinator of the core South African team that will investigate NMD in the region.

The Plastic Problem: NWU Researchers highlight Major Data Gaps

Researchers at the university discovered major data gaps related to marine plastic pollution produced in South Africa.

The research highlighted that in order to tailor a plastic policy for the country, more spatial and temporal data are needed (especially for freshwater bodies). This will determine areas in need of protection, areas under highest threat, and processes that may be targeted for intervention.

Putting Edible Insects on the Menu

Many South Africans perceive insects as disease-carriers and crop destroyers, instead of noting the crucial role they play in food security, soil improvement, nutrition and pollination.

In fact, in the North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, flying ants, grasshoppers, mopane worms, African metallic wood-boring beetles and edible stinkbugs are delicacies.

To educate the public about this multi-million Rand industry, researchers from the North-West University (NWU) and Rikkyo University in Japan were tasked with decoding indigenous knowledge systems of the mopane worm and the edible stinkbug for the school curriculum.


Getting the Most Out Of Medicinal Plant Extracts With Nanotechnology

A North-West University (NWU) graduate is bringing together age-old plant knowledge and the latest nanotechnology to make the most of medicinal plant extracts.

According to a United States National Nanotechnology Initiative, nanotechnology is currently revolutionising the technology and industrial sectors. These include information technology, homeland security, medicine, transportation, energy, food safety and environmental science, among many others.

MSc graduate Pule Silent Seboletswe recently conducted research into how nanotechnology can help in finding solutions for problems related to the use of natural products for therapeutic purposes.

 

Prof Charisma Nel, NWU project coordinator.

Reading Literacy: NWU Closes Gap Between Theory and Practice.

“Teaching reading is rocket science.” This quote by Louisa Moats underlines the importance of reading literacy, and that is why researchers and teacher educators from the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Faculty of Education are taking the lead to promote reading literacy in the foundation phase.

They are of the opinion that the reality of teachers needing better resources, preparation and professional development to carry out deliberate instruction in reading, spelling, and writing, should prompt action rather than criticism.

These NWU researchers and teacher educators are involved in two projects that address reading literacy initiatives in South Africa. They are the Strengthening Foundation Phase Teacher Education and the Work-integrated Learning projects, which form part of the Teaching and Learning Development Capacity Improvement Programme.

 

NWU Among the Best In Engineering Studies

The North-West University (NWU) is one of the top institutions in South Africa in engineering studies. This is according to the latest rankings by subject by Times Higher Education (THE) that list the NWU in the third position (the same as last year) among nine local higher-education institutions in the field of engineering.

THE placed the NWU in the 401 to 500 category globally ― the same category as in last year’s ranking. The NWU was measured against 1 188 universities worldwide.

The rankings were announced on 6 October and highlight the universities that are leading across the engineering disciplines, which include general engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering, civil engineering, and chemical engineering.

 

Evaluating the Potential Of South African Medicinal Plants As A Treatment For Depression

North-West University (NWU) academic Dr Makhotso Lekhooa is investigating the possibility that an indigenous plant can be used to treat depression.

This research is very applicable as the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that 4,4% of the global population suffers from depression, while in South Africa this percentage amounts to 4,6 %.

Moreover, South-Africa also has a poor response rate, with less than 50% of patients achieving remission and battling adverse side effects.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is having a detrimental effect on the health and economy of the world, and as such the prevalence of depression is expected to increase,” says Dr Lekhooa, a senior lecturer at the DST/NWU Pre-Clinical Drug Development Platform (PCDDP).

Dr Lekhooa’s research topic was “Evaluating the effects of South African medicinal plants such as Sceletium tortuosum in an animal model of depression”.

NWU Researcher Collaborates In International Fungi Study

The fungus that spoils bread does not work alone. It has guests hidden deep within its cells – bacteria – with whom it has a mutually beneficial relationship that can be positive or negative for humans. Understanding and modifying this relationship can have a profound impact on the food, medical and agricultural industries.

This is the focus of a four-year international collaboration between the North-West University (NWU) and two universities in the United States. It is part of a new grant that enables Prof Rasheed Adeleke, NWU researcher and associate professor of microbiology and soil sciences, and his American counterparts to determine how the fungi-bacterial relationship can be managed to limit food spoilage, fight diseases and ensure better food crops.

Prof Adeleke says the specific fungi are driven by a bacterial symbiosis. “We investigate to what extent, if any, fungal growth is impacted by the presence and nature of their bacterial symbionts, whether this entails killing bacteria or mass producing them. We want to determine the extent that the fungi can survive on their own and the implications of it.”

Tree Plantations are Harming Ecosystems

Replacing native forests with tree plantations is harming the soil at a microbial level by having an impact on soil fertility and the health of the planet.

This is one of the conclusions of North-West University (NWU) academic Prof Olubukola Oluranti Babalola – who along with Dr Adenike Eunice Amoo – recently conducted ground-breaking research to investigate the impact of land-use change on soil bacterial communities and characteristics.

“Soil microbial communities are an important part of ecosystems and possess the capability to improve ecosystem services. However, several aspects of the ecology of forest soil bacterial communities are still unknown,” says Prof Babalola.

Project Team Wants All University Students to Have Access to Indigenous African Languages

University students who have a mother tongue other than English should not be at a disadvantage compared to those who do speak English at home. This is why it is important to level the language playing field.

The North-West University (NWU) is one of four tertiary education institutions in South Africa to work with three European universities to facilitate and promote the use of indigenous African languages as mediums of instruction in tertiary education.

Known as BAQONDE, the project name stands for Boosting the Use of African Languages in Education; A Qualified Organised Nationwide Development Strategy for South Africa. It is a collaborative capacity-building project that seeks to provide all university students with access to the use of African languages so that they can reach their full potential.

Plants Offer Home-grown Solutions to Healthcare

Approximately 80% of South Africa’s population depends on medicinal plants for their healthcare needs, leading to an increased interest in the commercialisation of plant-based remedies.

Research by Tshepiso Ndhlovu, a PhD candidate at the North-West University (NWU), is shedding light on the potential of medicinal plants in the skincare market and in the treatment of childhood diseases.

The use of medicinal plants in treating childhood diseases is the current focus of Tshepiso, who is busy with his PhD on the topic. This follows his master’s research, which showed that VhaVenda women in Limpopo have the potential to develop and sell low-cost medicinal plant skincare products that can improve their socio-economic well-being.

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