One year on from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the higher education sector remains under critical pressure to re-establish and deliver on longer-term global goals and commitments to sustainability. The inaugural Times Higher Education (THE) Southern Africa Impact Forum, co-hosted with the University of Pretoria (UP) on 9-10 March, will provide an opportunity for university and sustainable development leaders from the region and around the world to analyse the opportunities and responsibilities of universities to address the most pressing challenges that the pandemic has thrown into focus.
Employing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a common framework for recognising impact and establishing new links within the region, the forum will seek to identify strategic solutions for universities whose pledges to erode obstructive socio-economic, environmental and health policies have inevitably been set back by heavy community and financial losses resulting from COVID-19. A special workshop will address future pathways of sustainable food systems in Africa, which will be presented at the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.
Speakers on the programme include the president of the African Development Bank, the chief executive of the International Science Council, the former deputy director general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and leaders from 15 universities.
Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pretoria (UP), said: “We are living in an age of disruption, so although UP had been looking forward to hosting our colleagues from Times Higher Education at our facilities in Pretoria, we are pleased that the THE Southern Africa Impact Forum will continue in an online format. The past year has taught us all to constantly adapt the way we live our lives – and universities are not immune from the need to rethink and reimagine their relationship to and their role in broader society as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The first panel on the two-day programme, led by Prof Kupe, will take a global view of how the SDGs have cultivated an innovative model for international collaboration and interdisciplinary research, with contributions from Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town; Professor Eeva Leinonen, Vice-Chancellor of Murdoch University in Australia; Dr Lisa Coleman, Senior Vice-President of Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation at New York University; Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds; and Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
An interview by Ellie Bothwell, THE’s rankings editor, with Professor Philip Cotton, head of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, and Getachew Engida, Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Management in the China-Africa Leadership Development Institute at Tsinghua University, will identify the resources that are most important for universities to generate potential for impact. A subsequent panel discussion will explore how institutions can utilise these resources to effect tangible change within societies, with contributions from Professor Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary General of the African Research Universities Alliance; Professor Kenneth Matengu, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Namibia; Professor Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand; Professor Teboho Moja, Professor of Higher Education at New York University; and Professor Funmi Olonisakin, Vice-President and Vice-Principal (international) at King’s College London.
Concentrating on university outreach efforts to shift damaging consumer behaviour, Simon Baker, THE’s data editor, will lead a conversation with Dr Heide Hackmann, chief executive of the International Science Council, and Professor Cheikh Mbow, director of UP’s Future Africa, about improving data literacy among the general public to enable the understanding of changes necessary for meaningful impact.
Concluding the programme, Prof Kupe will lead a series of workshops on sustainable consumption and production practices required to improve food systems in Africa in order to develop the African message and contributions to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.
The forum will also feature the exclusive live reveal of the 2021 THE Emerging Economies Rankings, and build on the evidence base of the THE University Impact Rankings, the only global metrics that assess the performance of universities against the SDGs. New 2021 data on the impact of African universities will be explored in a masterclass led by Duncan Ross, THE’s chief data officer, on the second day of the programme.
“The impact of COVID-19 has been felt all over the world, and it has brought into focus how fragile our ecosystem is,” said Ross. “Now, more than ever, it’s vital that universities play their part in delivering against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Whether it is in addressing carbon emissions, education for sustainability or building back greener, this is the time to act.”
Prof Kupe concluded: “As we prepare to launch the THE Southern Africa Impact Forum, we must collectively renew our focus on attaining all the SDGs, positioning our institutions and our students in the best ways as we begin the recovery from the pandemic, and constantly boost our institutions’ roles and impact in creating the better world we dream of.”
Find out more and register for the virtual Times Higher Education Southern Africa Impact Forum on 9-10 March.
This article first appeared in Times Higher Education on 16 February 2021.