University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in the Humanities by Michigan State University (MSU) on 13 December.
The award was made at the university’s Fall 2019 Advanced Degree Commencement Ceremony. MSU President Dr Samuel L. Stanley Jnr told the congregation and graduates that Prof Kupe is “a scholar and a visionary educator. You exemplify what it means to be a globally-engaged citizen, serving local needs with a focus on the most pressing challenges we face across the world”.
Prof Kupe took up his position as Vice-Chancellor of UP on 14 January 2019 and has led several fundraising initiatives as well as collaboration agreements with many universities. He was recently elected Chairperson for Africa in the Australia-Africa Universities Network. A scholar of media studies and journalism, he has a notable record in publication and activism.
Dr Stanley said Prof Kupe is a leader in providing quality education to UP’s more than 53 000 students.
“You are a champion of the University of Pretoria’s new Future Africa Campus, where scholars from across the world will come to leverage the benefits of trans-disciplinary research to address the grand challenges that face Africa and the world, a goal of Michigan State University as well.
“For your dedication to developing well-informed and skilled professionals for a global society, I am pleased to award you the honorary degree of Doctorate of Humanities from Michigan State University.”
Prof Kupe accepted the honour “on behalf of… universities in Africa and the people of Africa”. He said the world faces complex, interrelated challenges which include the climate emergency, unprecedented threats to environmental sustainability, political instability, persistent poverty, and the burden of disease. However, new knowledge can be applied to tackle these seemingly intractable challenges. “We can take advantage of the opportunities provided by rapid technological change to create a better and more sustainable world. Scientific breakthroughs and innovation are making a major difference, enabling progress in many areas of life.”
He said within universities there are restrictive boundaries and borders in the organisation of knowledge in distinct disciplines. “Disciplines have their value as foundational spaces in higher education… Disciplines have become hard-bound spaces instead of leaky porous avenues that enable critical thinking, critical inquiry and the development of problem-solving skills.”
Furthermore, boundaries exist between academic institutions within and across nations. He said knowledge needs to become a common currency across institutions. “It requires a dense network of co-creating and knowledge-sharing institutions, bound together by a common dedication to transforming the world.”
For Prof Kupe, the largely one-way movement of faculty and students across the globe is another set of restrictive boundaries. A consequence is that nations of the Global South experience a brain drain to the Global North. There is a need to break down these boundaries through multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches to knowledge creation. “The multiplicity of current local and global challenges do not come neatly packaged so they can be understood and solved through disciplinary approaches. They are messy,… complicated, intersectional, and require innovative transdisciplinary approaches. They require the combined scale and critical mass of the global academy working with society,” he explained.
This could be achieved through alliances, collaborations, partnerships and networks within and beyond universities, across continents. “This will enable faculty and students to transcend institutional, national and continental boundaries and borders.”
According to Prof Kupe, MSU is a leader in forging collaborations and networks across continents and has contributed to creating capacity and institutions in Africa that produce knowledge to address local challenges. MSU hosts the African Alliance Partnership, comprising 10 African universities, including UP. One focus is on sustainable agriculture and food security. He said UP and MSU will expand their partnership and collaboration.
“My university is on a journey to transform from an institution that is locally rooted but not sufficiently embracive of its continental and global dimensions. We aspire to be an African global university, locally responsive, continental in scope and globally engaged and interacting, to make a significant contribution to transforming Africa and the world.”
Watch a live stream of the event at the link below: