Ursula van Beek was born and grew up in Poland. She graduated (MA: history) in Poland and obtained her PhD in South Africa. Before taking up permanent residence in SA in 1991 she lived in Zambia where she worked as a primary school teacher.
Ursula began her academic career in 1993 as a Guest Researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria where she originated the first cross-cultural comparative study on transition to democracy in South Africa and Poland. In 2000 she established an international research team (Transformation Research Initiative: TRI), to study democratisation processes across all the main cultural regions in the world. In 2014, the TRI team she headed since its inception was institutionalised at Stellenbosch University as a Research Unit, TRU: Democracy Globally.
Ursula is the recipient of research awards from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in Pretoria; the Daimler Chrysler Foundation in Essen, Germany; the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation in Stockholm; the Taiwan Foundation of Democracy in Taipei; and, the National Research Foundation in South Africa. She is a rated NRF academic.
Ursula co-authored and edited a series of four books on democracy and is the author of Science systems in transition: The Visegrad Group. She has written chapters in books and has contributed to a variety of journals including the Polish Sociological Review, the Slavic Almanac, the International Journal on New Directions in the Humanities, Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen, Politikon, and the Taiwan Journal of Democracy.