UFS Academic Mentorship Improving Equity and Cohesion

Launch of Women’s Academic Advancement Programme.

Launch of Women’s Academic Advancement Programme.

Published May 15, 2024


Focused mentorship interventions at the University of the Free State (UFS) have not only enhanced employment equity at the institution – it has also led to improved social cohesion and an increased sense of belonging and collegiality among academic staff.

Establishing a human resource contingent within top academic structures that features balanced gender representation and adequately reflects the demographics of the country, remains a multifaceted challenge for South African universities. Most public universities do not have sufficient female representation among their top academics, and there is considerable competition to attract and retain African, coloured, and Indian South African academic staff.

UFS Bloemfontein Campus


Reaching the top echelons of academia is a long and arduous journey. To attain the most senior academic grade, that of professor, candidates must obtain bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees – which inevitably take several years to complete – and must also have an excellent record of publications, postgraduate supervision, academic leadership, service, and recognition in their field. For many top-achieving young black academics in our country, the private sector is often a quicker and more lucrative career option than the stringent demands of academia.


The University of the Free State’s commitment to academic excellence, impact, and transformation has resulted in a set of deliberate, comprehensive mentorship interventions to rectify racial and gender imbalances in a responsible and effective way.

The UFS launched its Transformation of the Professoriate Mentoring Programme five years ago with the aim of developing and supporting emerging scholars on the cusp of promotion to professorial positions. It focuses on the holistic development of the skills and attributes of emerging scholars in the core functions of teaching and learning, research, community engagement, and academic leadership in preparation for their roles as future professors and academic leaders.

The programme has evolved into different branches, each with a distinct focus area:


This a tailor-made development programme characterised by individual mentoring discussions with multiple mentors, writing retreats, monthly writing spaces, as well as a variety of training and support activities aimed at strengthening scholarly and leadership competencies. Academics who have completed their three-year fellowship in this group proceed to serve as alumni mentors for new candidates in the programme.


This programme targets promising young academics at an earlier stage in their careers, preparing them for entry into the Future Professoriate Group. Some of the activities of the two programmes are integrated to provide opportunities for colleagues from different departments and faculties to interact and benefit from the experience and competencies of the cohort. Individual career plans are drafted to monitor the progress of candidates towards different milestones, such as National Research Foundation (NRF) rating, receiving prestigious international fellowships, graduating PhD candidates, and being recognised for excellence in engaged teaching and scholarship.


This programme recognises that, despite existing policies, a disconnect often exists between stated goals and actual practices, leading to women being sidelined or overlooked in promotion processes. It provides support specifically relevant to women's academic career progression, simultaneously addressing structural barriers, attitudinal issues, and behavioural impediments to the advancement of women academics.


Building on the success of the ESAP programme, the university initiated the Researcher Excellence Accelerator Programme (REAP) – a new programme in 2024 targeting future scholars completing their PhD qualifications.


Half a decade of structured, intensive mentorship has yielded positive results. The 110 candidates who have benefited from the Future Professoriate and ESAP programmes over the past five years are performing extremely well, with the success rate of the first Future Professoriate group (measured by promotions to professoriate level) standing at 73%.

Around 70% of the selected candidates in these programmes are black South African and African foreign-born candidates, going a long way towards addressing historic imbalances in racial equity.

Candidates published a total of 315 academic articles, as well as 30 books. They also report increased international collaboration, advances in NRF ratings, and have been recipients of a total of 22 prestigious research grants.

Participants’ feedback bears evidence of not only scholarly development, but also an increased sense of engagement with the university community, and a strengthening of collaboration between junior and senior colleagues.


As candidates who have successfully completed mentorship and development programmes in turn become mentors to new entrants, these successes promise to grow exponentially over the coming years. The Transformation of the Professoriate Mentoring Programme aims to further strengthen its mentoring and capacity-building programmes, while simultaneously entrenching broader institutional mentoring practices to lure and retain excellent academics in all faculties and departments.

Improving the equity profile of the professoriate, increasing the intellectual diversity of staff, and aspiring for gender parity in all its leadership positions form an integral part of Vision 130 – the UFS’ bold, comprehensive strategy to renew and reimagine itself for 2034, when it celebrates its 130th year of existence. These mentorship successes form an important milestone in the university’s continuous quest to inspire excellence and transform lives through quality, impact, and care.

Contact Us:

Bloemfontein Campus: +27 51 401 9111

Qwaqwa Campus: +27 58 718 5000

South Campus: +27 51 401 9111