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Dr Mvuzo Ponono

Mvuzo Ponono is a Xhosa man from the Eastern Cape. He is formerly based at the University of the Free State, where he was a lecturer in Communication Science. His research interests include audience, postcolonial and development studies. Both his MA and recently completed PhD examined development and agency within a township setting. The MA examined the influence of a township family context on the interpretation of a health education television programme, while his PhD thesis was an ethnographic study that focussed on the parallel reality between mainstream news and township youth. He continues to be in research because of a desire to use the discipline as a tool for community upliftment. His driving force within academia, therefore, is to conduct research focused on marginalised communities until practical application of theory benefits the lives of those involved.

 

As such, his first postdoc project was an engaged scholarship programme that investigated the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on small businesses in the township. His current research looks into development from the broader perspective of engagement. The two year NIHSS/NMU research project takes on the responsibility of converting the practice of engagement into academic scholarship. The aim of the project is to ensure that as a core university function, engagement initiatives are formally recorded as scholarship in order for them to be placed on par with efforts in Teaching and Research.

 

Synopsis of Postdoctoral Study

Title: Engagement Scholarship: Creation and capacity Building

On an institutional level, engagement is now commonly accepted as the third core function of higher education, alongside Learning and Teaching and Research. As such, engagement is seen as a distinct and clearly identifiable set of institutional actions and goals, often with both global and local implied expectations. Higher education engagement can then potentially result in relevant and socially responsive practice, theory and scholarship development, the development of effective solutions to practical problems, conveying and advancing of knowledge, and contributing to social responsibility, accountability and social justice agendas at global and local levels. The language around engagement in higher education suggests recognition of the importance of the area and a conscious effort to bring a greater sense of rigor and clarity to efforts of civic engagement in higher education. Engaged scholars are making the case that their practices constitute serious scholarship capable of meeting or even exceeding traditional academic standards. By working with communities in the processes of research, scholars can generate research questions, widen the field of potential data sources, and test findings as well as (and sometimes better than) colleagues practicing normal academic scholarship (Barker, 2004). Our projects departure point is that despite the fact that Engagement is now widely recognised as a core function of higher education, the institutionalisation of engagement to a level that is on par with Learning and Teaching and Research, still remains a challenge. This includes the unequal weight of the three core functions in institutions and the commensurate unequal distribution of funding and resources. Although engagement practitioners are often the change agents at a grassroots level in the spaces where a university enacts its social and stakeholder responsibilities and relationships, their work, however, is often not formally recorded as scholarship because they are not given the same time, resources and support given to Research and Teaching and Learning scholarly endeavours. It is the institutional responsibility of universities to address this imbalance. One which our project has embarked on. In doing so, the aim of the project to capacitate project leaders in order to assist them to convert their practical work to academic scholarship.