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TIDE TURNING FOR MARINE STUDENTS

13 March 2014, 14:31

A dream without opportunity more often than not remains just that…a dream!

However, an opportunity provided to three disadvantaged students at Walter Sisulu University (WSU) has paved the way for this trio’s dreams to one day become reality.

Last year marked a watershed moment for WSU’s Zoology Honours students Yalanda Qhaji, Sonwabile Malongwe and Lwazi Nombembe, who became the first cohort of graduates to benefit from a university partnership with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB)- the result bursaries for each student close to R30 000 each.

Qhaji (24), who hails from the rural town of Qumbu in the former Transkei and now doing her Masters in Science at the University of Johannesburg, says the initiative has played a tremendous role in helping her inch closer to fulfilling her dreams of one day becoming a marine biologist.

“The initiative helped immensely by covering payment for the bulk of my studies. This allowed me to excel as a student because I didn’t have to worry about monitory issues,” says Qhaji.  

Through the on-going collaboration with the SAIAB African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme’s (ACEP) Phuhlisa programme, a further four Honours students, and one Masters students, could reap the rewards of this fruitful partnership after SAIAB awarded a further five bursaries for 2014.

“The Phuhlisa Programme’s goal is to produce a winning model for developing a pipeline of high quality human capital in marine science by utilising talent at our country’s Historically Black Universities (HBUs). We do this through key partnerships with national facilities and HBUs,” says SAIAB Research and Human Capital Development Coordinator Garth van Heerden.

Another beneficiary of the programme, 23-year-old Lwazi Nombembe says the programme has taught him the one of the most important life skills he’s ever learnt – swimming.

“The Phuhlisa Programme has taught me to swim. This is the one of the most important lessons in this field because without swimming, you can’t do much in the water, and that of course doesn’t bode well for someone looking to go into the marine science industry,” says Nombembe.

The benefits of the programme are not limited to swimming lessons and paying fees; they also offer other services. As beneficiaries, the students get to learn basic statistics, research techniques, research proposal writing, literature review writing, professional communication techniques, coupled with the luxury of a writing coach.

“They’ve also taught us critical life skills like first aid, and equipped us with other skills like a skippers license,” says Nombembe.

WSU’s Zoology senior lecturer Dr Vincent Nakin says it’s great to see the “often slow and frustrating, and at best of times stagnant wheels of transformation moving in the right direction and turning the tide in favour of the students”.

“Marine science is still predominantly a ‘white’ industry and it will remain this way if such interventions are not put in place to give the black child a chance. It is incumbent upon organisations such as SAIAB to take the necessary steps, as well as universities to foster these relationships,” says Nakin.

Through the WSU and University of Fort Hare partnerships, the programme aims to produce 35 black postgraduate students by 2015. Since 2012, SAIAB has spent close to R3 million in an effort to fulfil this goal.

“Passion and research excellence are imperative but, if South African marine science is to thrive, we should ensure we have a representative scientific cohort which requires dedicated transformation initiatives such as Phuhlisa,” concludes Van Heerden. 

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