Maths 'Einstein' Phakeng gets new role at top UK university

28 September 2021 - 12:56
UCT'S vice chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng will soon be taking over a new role as Bristol University's illustrious visiting professor – a prestigious initiative that connects the UK university with esteemed global academic leaders.
UCT'S vice chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng will soon be taking over a new role as Bristol University's illustrious visiting professor – a prestigious initiative that connects the UK university with esteemed global academic leaders.
Image: HETTY ZANTMAN

University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng’s outstanding work in mathematics education and her leadership have been recognised once more by one of the UK’s top universities.

Phakeng will take over the reins as the University of Bristol’s first illustrious visiting professor — a prestigious collaborative initiative that connects the UK university with esteemed global research leaders and academics.

The new role, which Phakeng will take up on October 20, will see her interact with Bristol’s academic community on a regular basis through a series of public lectures that will be shared online.

The professorship, which is by invitation only, will comprise a mix of virtual and in‑person activities, and Phakeng will pay Bristol an extended visit to engage with their researchers, senior management team, and wider community.

Bristol is among the UK’s top 10 universities.

University of Bristol vice-chancellor Prof Hugh Brady said by hosting Phakeng, Bristol hoped to “learn from and be inspired by her knowledge, approaches, and ethos”.

On the university’s website Brady said the invitation recognises Phakeng’s “exceptional and inspirational” work in mathematics education and university leadership in post‑apartheid SA.

He said Phakeng has established herself as an inspirational figure in maths education and university leadership in SA.

“I have already had the great pleasure of working closely with Prof Phakeng on our important Bristol‑UCT strategic partnership, and as members of the worldwide universities network. It will be exciting to have our entire community benefit from Mamokgethi’s expertise, energy and vision over the year ahead.”

Phakeng, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by the same university in 2019, is equally excited about the new opportunity.

“This is not only for me on a personal level, but also for African scholarship. It’s an opportunity to share from the work that I have done in multilingual mathematics classrooms in SA.

“On a much wider scale, I believe this appointment will also strengthen the relationship between two great institutions of higher learning ... UCT, which is the highest ranked university in Africa, and the University of Bristol, which ranks among the world’s top 60 institutions of research and higher education.

“The landscape of education around the world, and more specifically the landscape of leadership in higher education, has changed a great deal in recent years and will change even more in the near future.

“I hope this new relationship will offer opportunities for me to share with my colleagues in Bristol from my own leadership journey. And I am excited to learn from them in turn,” Phakeng said.

UCT council chair Babalwa Ngonyama described Phakeng’s new role as a great honour for UCT, saying it had further cemented an important relationship for the university, and entrenched UCT’s relevance on a global scale.

“It is particularly meaningful to see our vice-chancellor leading the way in a visiting professorship that will deepen her own ongoing scholarship in mathematics education as well as UCT’s own research endeavour.

“Prof Phakeng mirrors the excellence we encourage in our academic community, as well as the value of research in areas that have important societal impact.

“I refer to Prof Phakeng’s work in mathematics education in multilingual contexts ... an examination of which languages are privileged, and which are marginalised and impact on teaching and learning.

“This is close to our hearts at UCT as we work towards transforming our institution and making it a home to all, with the ultimate goal of unleashing human potential,” said Ngonyama.

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