South African SDG Hub at UP: Collaboration is key in achieving Sustainable Development Goals

Posted on February 28, 2020

What is the role of the academic community in helping the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? How can the research produced by institutions assist policymakers in the achievement of the SDGs?

These are some of the questions that the South African SDG Hub at the University of Pretoria (UP) aimed to answer through its seminar hosted at the University of Pretoria Future Africa Campus earlier this month. The seminar was attended by participants from the University of Pretoria, UNISA, the University of Johannesburg, Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape, Vaal University of Technology, and the Tshwane University of Technology. Also represented were the National Research Foundation, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as national government departments, the Gauteng provincial government, the private sector and civil society organisations.

The Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Tiaan de Jager said platforms such as these are important because they remind us of the importance of partnership. "Our approach to research is transdisciplinary, we have nine faculties at the University of Pretoria collaborating. If there is no collaboration, we cannot achieve anything we plan to," Prof de Jager said.

The first item of discussion was presented by Chief Director of Innovation for Inclusive Development at the Department of Science and Technology Nonhlanhla Mkhize who discussed the importance of science and technology in the development agenda.

Mkhize highlighted that research has an instrumental role to play in helping along the process of evidence-informed decision making in order for policymakers to understand complexities better and find innovative approaches to problem solving. Mkhize challenged members of the academic fraternity to explore further translating SDGs into the curriculum.

In response to the challenge, the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Professor Chika Sehoole, questioned the practicality of including these in the curriculum, sighting that it may be difficult to successfully integrate these subjects into programmes.

De Wet Naude, Regional Director Sub-Saharan Africa of multinational cooperation SAP, argued that the SDGs should be experienced rather than taught. Naude pointed out the need for engaging, even at an informal level. 

A different perspective was shared when Stellenbosch University academic Joanne Williams said at the institution, staff members are encouraged to incorporate SDGs in teaching and research.

The last debate of the workshop was on the challenges that researchers face to get policymakers interacting with their research and for it to be used to inform decision making. The debate was facilitated in breakaway sessions by Dr Sylvia Croese, a Research Officer at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Participants pointed out many barriers to this that include lack of transparency and political will, lack of collaboration, academic workload and requirement to publish high-quality work, difficulties in translating academic research to policymakers, misalignment of research and government planning and budgeting, and lack of coordination.

Masego Panyane

- Author Masego Panyane

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