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Meet the Teaching Excellence Award winner: Dr Alexander Andrason
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Rozanne Engel]
Published: 18/02/2021


As one of Stellenbosch University's 2020 Developing Teacher Award winners, Dr Alexander Andrason, says winning the award has reassured him that he is on the right path in pursuing excellent research and excellent teaching.

“This is one of the most important awards I have received. It reassures me in the conviction that excellent research (high in quality and quantity) is fully compatible with (in fact necessitates) excellent teaching. The opinion commonly repeated to me that in academia one has to choose to be either a good researcher or a good teacher is a fallacy."

The Icelandic-Polish native is a researcher and lecturer at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Department of Ancient Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He speaks more than twenty living languages and has an extensive knowledge of various ancient and classical languages.

Andrason teaches Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages: Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Middle Egyptian. Additionally, he works as a researcher in the Department of African Languages at SU where he oversees projects related to the Bantu, Khoe, and Nilotic linguistic families.

“I have always been passionate about languages. I come from a multilingual and multicultural background. I know more than forty languages and have lived, studied and worked in eight different countries. I have never thought about myself as a citizen of a country but rather as a truly global citizen. It is thus not surprising that since my childhood, learning languages has become my addiction. As teenager, I wanted to understand the science behind human language and the various languages I knew and therefore chose linguistics as the main field of my study."

Andrason started teaching at university level in Iceland, while working on his first PhD in Hebrew and Arabic Languages, which he completed in 2010. This created an opportunity for him to work as a visiting lecturer at many universities in Europe and parts of Africa before he started teaching on a contract basis at SU (as a postdoc) and later as a permanent staff member.

To date, he has also completed a PhD in African Languages at SU in 2016, submitted his final thesis paper on language contact in 2020 for his third PhD, and recently enrolled for a fourth doctoral degree, a PhD in Latin.

“I believe that my career highlights are still ahead of me. I have plenty of dreams that I would like to realise. However, what I have enjoyed so far the most is working on my three PhDs. Writing a PhD is one of my favourite pastimes," says Andrason.

Andrason believes that remaining an active student himself has helped him to better relate to his own students. He says that he never wants to be stuck in a comfort zone where he is not able to learn from others and re-evaluate his previous knowledge from a new perspective.

“I would like to remain an active student until I retire. The idea of being another brick in the wall still permeates institutions of higher education and I have seen it both as a student and as a teacher. Being an active student will always remind me about what it means to be a student, thus helping me to understand my students at any given point of my career."

More on the SU Teaching Excellence Awards

Launched in 2017, the SU Teaching Excellence Awards acknowledge lecturers in two categories, 'Distinguished Teacher' and 'Developing Teacher', based on their experience and leadership in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Applicants have to submit a portfolio that demonstrate their reflection on and evidence of four main components: context, students, knowledge and professional growth. They also have to indicate the lessons they had learnt on their journey to becoming excellent teachers.

For more information about the Teaching Excellence Awards, contact Dr Karin Cattell-Holden at