Students to shape Western Cape policies

By Soninke Combrinck

Students can help shape Western Cape policies. Source: Australian National University 

Student dissertations could play a key role in policy making in the Western Cape government, says the DEA.

On Friday 26 February 2016, Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs’ Chief Director, Karen Shippey, presented a seminar at the University of Cape Town about collaborating with other provincial universities and the local government on environmental research that can be applied in local decision making.

Cross university and faculty pollination

The Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is inviting the four universities of the Western Cape (UCT, UWC, CPUT and SU) to a consortium so that knowledge and research may be pooled. This is to “identify areas of synergy between research taking place at Western Cape universities,” says Karen.

Most students are divorced from government and municipal plans, according to Karen. Yet, postgraduate students partake in critical research  that could aid the Western Cape government in policy making.

The idea is that the respective universities organise an open day at the end of the year, where postgraduate students are invited to talk about research topics and possible collaboration on projects for their next year of study. Apart from just liaising between university departments of geography and the environment, the DEA also encourages interfaculty discussions.

“The idea is to have various units from different universities and departments meet at a summit or conference to swap ideas; but it would have to be organised by the universities or Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC) themselves ,” Karen encourages.

Part of the aftermath of the recent 2016 Budget Speech means that the DEA has been cut back financially. Therefore the students will not be reimbursed for their research, their work has the potential to influence decision- and policy making on a governmental and municipal level.

Karen identified the current topical areas of research, with the highest tally at climate change, the green economy, natural environment, and lastly infrastructure and built environment. The DEA hopes to “see more cross pollination between infrastructure and the built environment”.

Key areas of research

Key areas of research were also identified at the seminar. More postgraduates can explore the realm of social sciences and how that relates to the environment, as this is a largely important field that has been neglected. In addition to this, there is a call for more information on sustainable settlements, creating ‘green jobs’, green chemistry and climate change response. Growing areas of concern include sustainable food and water resources; and alternative yet sustainable infrastructure and settlements.

Concerns were raised by students about guarantees that the government will read and apply their work. The response was that the students would have to apply a convincing dissertation and liaise with a mentor within the government  to guide them along their research areas. The students also have to maintain a high quality of work for their work to be published and considered for policy making.

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