A Masters bursary focusing on Agricultural regime shifts is available for 2020, based at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (CST) at Stellenbosch University. The CST builds on a strong history of transdisciplinary research and complexity studies and hosts leading scientists and students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, providing a vibrant hub for solution-oriented, transdisciplinary, sustainability science. The primary objective of the CST is to provide transformational knowledge on the dynamics of multiscale social-ecological change, and strategic insights into the new modes of research and governance that can bring about a just transition to a more equitable and sustainable society, in southern Africa and globally.

Agricultural regime shifts in Southern Africa

Regime shifts, long-lasting shifts or changes in the structure and function of social-ecological systems often occur abruptly and unexpectedly. These changes have substantial impact on ecosystem services such as crop production or food regulation that directly impacts human wellbeing. The South African Research Chair in Social-Ecological Systems and Resilience, held by Prof Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, aims to contribute to theory, methods and understanding that can improve our capacity to assess risks and build resilience to regime shifts that may jeopardize ecosystem services and human wellbeing. This work centres on the Regime Shifts Database (www.regimeshifts.org), an initiative that is being conducted in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden. The core goals of the initiative are to provide synthesis of regime shifts that have occurred in different social-ecological systems, their drivers and consequences for ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

One area of increasing interest is the study of regime shift associated with agricultural systems – both in terms of regime shifts driven by agricultural systems (e.g. eutrophication caused by agricultural inputs) and those that are affecting agricultural systems from elsewhere (e.g. desertification). Ongoing work at the Centre for Complex Systems in transition in collaboration with several universities in South Africa aims to characterise a broad spectrum of regime shifts related to agricultural systems. These range from ecological drivers to institutional drivers causing shifts in agriculture. This broader understanding of regime shifts opens up new avenues to consider factors such as technology, energy, institutions and other transitions.

We seek a Masters student that is interested in contributing to understanding these regime shifts and collecting examples.

Call for applications

We seek motivated individuals interested to pursue a Masters, who have a keen interest in sustainability, an interest and ability to integrate across the social and natural sciences, and who enjoy collaboration and working in teams. Interested individuals should have a strong academic track-record, and will be expected to be based at the CST and participate in Centre seminars and activities. The candidate will be co-supervised by Dr Odirilwe Selomane, the Director of the international Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS, http://www.pecs-science.org/) and Prof Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, who holds the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Social-Ecological systems and Resilience.


Bursaries will be funded from the DST/NRF SARChI chair held by Prof Biggs, topped up to the following values:

  • Masters full-time over 2 years: R 120,000 pa (R 10,000 per month)
  • Tuition and reasonable running and travel expenses will be covered separately.


All students applying for a Masters degree should have completed an Honours or four-year undergraduate degree or equivalent to be eligible. All candidates should show evidence of strong scholarly performance. Based on the National Research Foundation’s funding guidelines, strong preference will be given to South African nationals and under-represented groups.

To apply

Interested candidates should send:

  • a motivation letter (detailing your previous experience, your general area of interest, as well as an outline of potential research topics of interest),
  • a detailed CV that includes your academic record, previous work experience, any scientific publications on which you have been an author, and the names of at least two academic referees,
  • transcripts of academic qualifications,
  • at least one example of recent written work (e.g. a paper, report, thesis chapter).

Please submit your applications electronically to Odirilwe Selomane: odirilwes@sun.ac.za

We encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible, but latest by 15 February 2020. Applications will be reviewed as they come.