‘COVID-19 a reminder that the world is on the edge of constant disruptions’ – UP Vice-Chancellor Prof Kupe at Future of Higher Education virtual discussion

Posted on November 19, 2020

The University of Pretoria (UP) in conjunction with New York University (NYU) recently hosted a panel discussion on the ‘Future of Higher Education’ and further discussed the role of global cross-institutional and cross-sector partnerships in leading opportunities for the future of higher education.

Addressing the panellists, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said the pandemic has been a reminder that we live on the edge of continuous political, social, technological, economic and ecological disruptions. “Higher education institutions have been able to identify their relevance during this time but, in turn, higher education institutions have also been able to understand their limitations. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to rethink, reimagine and reposition the higher education system.

“We need to do more on societal impact, and this is the time because the pandemic is a global problem never known before and knowledge is key to solving it. It has also taught us the possibilities and limitations of online education,” said Prof Kupe.

The discussion featured four global thought leaders: Professor Jamshed Bharucha, Founding Vice-Chancellor of Sai University in Chennai, India; Dr Lisa Coleman, Senior Vice-President for Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation, New York University; Professor ‘Funmi Olonisakin, Vice-President and Vice-Principal International at King’s College, London; Amy Rutherford, Regional Director, Americas, the Middle East, and Europe at Education, New Zealand; and Professor Teboho Moja, Clinical Professor of Higher Education at New York University and event moderator.

Prof Bharucha said there are serious issues regarding inclusion when bringing people together, especially when it comes to online platforms, due to lack of access to wi-fi or internet-enabled devices, such as laptops. “Once we come back from this pandemic, we would have learnt from this and have more technological tools for promoting inclusion and diversity in every aspect of the university.”

Responding to a question about the long-lasting global impact of the pandemic on higher education and opportunities that have come up, Rutherford said since the outbreak of COVID-19 there has been an acceleration in terms digitisation globally; people are connected and are able to mobilise. “We are also seeing different types of leaders; the younger generation is much more entrepreneurial and they are solving problems in different technological ways. Also, since the outbreak, we have seen a lot of global partnerships and more avenues provided for those partnerships and cross-sector opportunities; and we need to sustain those partnerships.”

Dr Coleman cautioned that in dealing with disruptions in the world, “we need to think about sustainability and that technology is a double-edged sword that must be used carefully”.

Prof Olonisakin said she envisions the future of education as one that is extremely dynamic and one in which there are opportunities to study a developing society. “With this pandemic, for once we can see a new generation of people, having seen the ways in which they have interacted [and] communicated, and that has been revealed by COVID-19. We ought to see a world of future leaders and entrepreneurs who will change the ways in which we research them.”

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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