University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe and Cornell University Vice-Provost for International Affairs Professor Wendy Wolford have formalised an institutional agreement between the two universities during a virtual memorandum of understanding (MoU) signing ceremony.
The institutional agreement, signed on 7 June 2021, aims to confirm a longstanding history of collaboration between the two institutions through facilitating international academic exchange, further developing academic and scientific relationships, and providing support for collaborative research activities.
"I am confident that bringing together these pockets of excellence at UP and Cornell, along with other multidisciplinary entities across our faculties, will create a transformative partnership that will co-create knowledge and innovate solutions to make a difference in our global commons,” Prof Kupe said during the signing. “Our partnership comes at an opportune time for us to harness our complementary strengths as well as to make sense and co-innovate solutions to respond to the impact of COVID-19. Since both Cornell University and UP have globally recognised academic programmes, this partnership provides us with opportunities to develop and optimise new, innovative models of hybrid learning to adapt to the transition to online learning. At UP, we strongly believe that the idea is not to pursue online learning as an alternative to contact higher education. Instead, the solution is to blend multiple delivery modes and embrace creativity and innovation in teaching, to improve learning outcomes.”
Through this agreement, the institutions will offer to the other certain opportunities for activities and programmes in the domains of teaching, research, exchange of faculty and students, exchange of academic information, materials and resources, and staff development, which will in turn foster an even stronger collaborative relationship. This will be crucial to survival in a post-COVID-19-pandemic world.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet, what we have learnt is that for our ability to survive and hopefully thrive in the future, one of the key ingredients will be international partnerships; collaborations on academic and also applied or engaged research and teaching, that will help us understand the many challenges we are faced with, including issues of inequality, food security, well-being and sustainability,” Prof Wolford said. “In order to survive, we need these thoughtful partnerships between researchers, and mobilities between students and faculties across the globe. Therefore, it is exciting to be signing this MoU today with UP that is focused on a number of research projects.”
The institutional agreement builds on Cornell and UP’s long history of engagement. The two institutions’ desire to strengthen this longstanding partnership led to a two-day strategic workshop for a group of Cornell faculty members, hosted at UP’s Future Africa institute in October 2019. This workshop focused on developing a framework to guide a comprehensive institutional agreement. The cornerstone of the relationship is the unique status shared by UP and Cornell, in that UP has the only Faculty of Veterinary Science in South Africa, offering the highest-ranked programme on the continent, while Cornell is the only Ivy League university that has a College of Veterinary Medicine as well as a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).
The draft framework of collaboration focuses on a bottom-up approach, starting with pedagogical innovation to develop “holistic thinkers” as part of the teaching and learning component.
It was agreed that the pedagogical innovation will be informed by transdisciplinary research by both emerging and senior academics, to ensure that the collaborative institutional engagement is transformative and has an impact on society. The Food-Energy-Environment nexus has been identified as the thematic foci of the collaboration, with more emphasis on three areas: sustainable food systems, smart communities, and global one health. This builds on an existing student exchange programme involving the Faculty of Law at UP and Cornell’s School of Law.