The Department of Food Science within the Faculty of AgriSciences received one of four nGap positions allocated to Stellenbosch University (SU). A total of 79 allocations were made to universities across South Africa.
The New Generation of Academics Programme (nGap) initiated by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is intended to support universities to recruit new academics in line with their staffing and development plans. Applicants must be younger then 40.
The DHET carries the costs of the position for the first three years, after which the university starts to contribute to the young academic's cost to company. The nGAP will also enable the newly-recruited lecturers to benefit from teaching and research development opportunities.
Prof Gunnar Sigge, Head of the Department of Food Science, said he is very relieved and happy about the nGap position allocated to his department as staff member capacity has been a challenge for the past few years. Although the new appointee will not be expected to handle a full workload in his/her first three years, this appointment will assist in easing the teaching and supervisory load of the current staff members.
Student numbers in the Department of Food Science have increased by 54% since 2008 but the academic staff complement only increased by one from five to six, even though an external evaluation suggested that the academic staff contingent should be doubled by 2013.
"Furthermore, students from other degree courses, for example BSc Agric (Aquaculture) and BSc Agricultural Economics also follow certain food science modules, further increasing the class sizes," added Prof Sigge.
"Undergraduate BSc Food Science numbers totalled 231 in 2015, while 30 MSc students and 22 PhD students were enrolled at the same time. Thus, it is clear that the academic staff have a high undergraduate teaching load, as well as a high postgraduate supervisory load. Applications to the undergraduate BSc Food Science degree are still increasing with over 100 applications for admission in 2016. There is also an increasing trend in applications to the postgraduate programmes in food science (MSc and PhD).
"An additional academic staff member will thus benefit the undergraduate programme, broaden the expertise base, increase research outputs and strengthen postgraduate supervisory capacity."
He believes everyone will benefit from this arrangement. "The new employee receives the opportunity to enter the academic world and has time to establish him- or herself, while the department gets an extra staff member and has time to ensure that this post is economically viable."
The importance of food science in food and nutrition security, alleviating hunger and contributing to health and well-being is recognised by the fact that food science has been declared a "scarce skill" in South Africa.
"Well trained, skilled, creative and dynamic food scientists with a multitude of different areas of specialisation are thus a critical requirement in addressing these challenges," said Prof Sigge.