SARUA is a university membership organisation with 51 member universities from all of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries with the explicit aim of developing higher education leadership capacity in the Southern African region. Many representatives or academics from various countries in the SADC region deliberated on academic mobility, which was the theme for the conference.
It has been established that academic mobility, implying a period of study, teaching or research in a country other than the academic or student’s country of residence, has increased worldwide over the last two decades. Academic mobility is now viewed as an important instrument for developing the capacity of higher education systems in developing countries.
The deliberations by the senior experts and Higher Education leadersin the SADC region considered global trends and key features of academic mobility, the risks and threats and building capacity in the higher education sector in academic mobility.
In her opening remarks, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal at UP, Prof Cheryl de la Rey, acknowledged SARUA as a unique association which focuses on the region itself. She also mentioned that “although mobility of knowledge and technology by people is important, it is vital to ensure that it has a positive impact in terms of development as a whole across the region”.
The Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande also recognised the important role SARUA is playing. He said that, as a young organisation, it has already started to make an important impact on the thinking and the understanding of the challenges facing higher education in Southern Africa. He also commended the discussions SARUA has held on significant issues facing higher education and some of its important baseline research on higher education in the region.
Although Minister Nzimande acknowledged that mobility of both students and academics has certain advantages of stimulating greater idea exchanges, enhancing fruitful research collaboration and promoting a greater understanding between cultures, it tended to be largely a one-way process over the past few decades.
He posed the question about who the sole beneficiary from the massive and rapidly growing mobility is, which has contributed significantly to some 30 million Africans living outside their home countries. He cited a new report by the African Development Bank and the World Bank, which shows that more than a million highly qualified Africans now live in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
While the higher education institutions in sub-Saharan Africa may wish to continue, and in some cases even expand, academic mobility, “it cannot be uncritically accepted even though it has helped to educate many Africans, as it also contributed to the loss of critical human resources to our continent”, said Minister Nzimande.
Ms Piyushi Kotecha, SARUA CEO (fourth from left); Minister Blade Nzimande (centre) and Prof Cheryl de la Rey (third from right), among the delegates from SADC region.