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Academic and PhD Student Secures Prestigious Scholarship for Doctoral Studies

2014/03/19 03:16:58 PM

College of Law and Management Lecturer and doctoral student Ms Thea van der Westhuizen's innovative approach to research has earned her a prestigious DAAD-NRF In-Country Scholarship for her doctoral studies.

Ms Thea van der Westhuizen.Ms Thea van der Westhuizen.

The German Academic Exchange Service Scholarship is awarded to outstanding young students and academics in South Africa with the aim of qualifying young researchers and professionals with a spirit of tolerance and openness at the very best institutions around the world while promoting the internationality and appeal of Germany’s Institutions of Higher Education. 

Van der Westhuizen’s interest in self-motivation, with the focus on entrepreneurship, inspired her to approach her research topic: “The Development of an Action Learning Programme to Enhance Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy”, under the supervision of Professor Kriben Pillay and Professor Shahida Cassim.

The values she explores in her research are also values she lives by as she had applied for more than 30 scholarships with no success. Van der Westhuizen persevered and kept on trying until she finally succeeded. The result of her success is an In Country scholarship which will fund her research to the value of R90 000 a year for three years, and opens the opportunity to travel to Germany to learn from top international institutions

‘My action research is an action learning project that will see second year students being part of a nine-month teaching and learning programme that is fun and creative. The project is called SHAPE which stands for Shifting Hope, Activating Potential Entrepreneurship.’

Students will learn how starting a business is not only about a business plan but it is also about self-motivation and self-confidence which will enable them to keep going even after failure. Students will also be given the opportunity to work in partnership with experienced business professionals. The result will hopefully be a business start-up of the student in partnership with an experienced professional.

‘I believe that as a researcher you have to be passionate about your topic and not only do it so that you can get a qualification. You must never give up and need to be able to deal with rejection because when you do something, it is about the heart and not the mind,’ she said.

The programme, due to start running in March, will be Van der Westhuizen’s data collection method as she will be observing its progress and results.

‘The students will  be placed in the business environment of our sponsors, eThekwini Municipality and the Durban Chamber of Business and Industry where they will not come in as interns but as equal potential partners and explore ways of starting a business.

‘By the time the students are done with their qualification they will have the experience of starting a business. This programme will allow us to observe our research in action as it emerges, and evaluate it successes and failures as it happens. It can be seen as part of the Living Theory philosophical movement” said van der Westhuizen.

Since the Scholarship covers visits to Germany for study and research visits and a lifelong partnership it also creates an opportunity for ideas of collaborative research and mutually beneficial international partnerships.

As her supervisor, Pillay had this to say about Van der Westhuizen’s accomplishment: ‘Thea is a very good example of a focused goal-getter. I witnessed her facing many difficulties with her research and her career but through perseverance both her career and her research path have dramatically changed and are on course. She seems to have personally imbibed the principles of personal and social change from the Theory U model that she is using in her research.’

As a current scholarship holder Van der Westhuizen is also invited to the DAAD-NRF In-Country scholarship holders meeting taking place in Stellenbosch in June.

More info about SHAPE can be found at or

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