‘We need to disrupt stereotypes that hinder the notion that knowledge knows no borders’ – UP VC during international webinar on US-Africa education partnerships

Posted on June 18, 2021

University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe recently featured in a webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US-based policy research organisation, in partnership with Howard University’s Center for African Studies.

The discussion focused on ways to encourage more US universities to open campuses in Africa and offer joint degrees accredited by both African and American universities; it also looked at the prospects of expanding e-learning and online courses for African students.

“UP has a huge passion for partnerships with US universities,” said Prof Kupe during the discussion. “We recently signed an agreement with Cornell University and with Michigan State University, which has an alliance with 10 African universities, including UP, across the African continent. Among other things, we do research in agriculture, food and sustainable systems. The Cornell agreement also covers developing online programmes.”

There are increasing opportunities for expanding international campuses, conducting joint research and developing e-learning platforms between US and African universities. Carnegie Mellon University’s successful campus expansion to Rwanda, for example, marked the first time that a US research university offered master’s degrees with full-time faculty, staff and operations in the region, thus creating a model for similar institutions.

Moderator Judd Devermont, Director of the Africa Program at CSIS, noted that since 1950, the US has welcomed about 1,6 million African citizens to various colleges and universities; in 2019 alone, African students are estimated to have contributed $1.7 billion to the US economy. “These partnerships have also contributed to the rise of many African leaders – about 20% of current African leaders studied in the US,” said Devermont. 

According to Prof Kupe, depending on the US’s resources, mutually beneficially co-equal programmes could be launched. Design programmes could be taught in hybrid mode, and must include staff and students moving between US universities. “In doing so, we disrupt many stereotypes and histories that hinder the notion that knowledge knows no borders and boundaries, and that scholarship is genuinely global, with ‘global’ not just [referring to] Europe and North America, but the rest of the world connected by transformative and impactful knowledge,” he said.

Professor Paul Zeleza, Vice-Chancellor of the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, pointed out that academic collaborations between African and American universities and colleges are necessary because there is enormous creativity in African universities and that in order to scale it up, collaborations and partnerships are needed. “The African Union is trying to upscale Africa’s education – knowledges, competencies, skills, innovations, etc,” he said. “However, higher education sectors on the African continent suffer from massive shortages of funding and research productivity. Our universities suffer from poor governance, challenges of equity inclusion, diversity in terms of gender, class, race, religion, etc. There is a need for increased support for the higher education sector from all key stakeholders: government, the private sector and civil society.”

“The US has a long-standing engagement in Africa, in health education; economic development; humanitarian assistance; promoting democracy and advancing stabilisation and human rights; supporting civil society; and actively working with and engaging youth,” said Janette Yarwood, Senior Advisor for the Bureau of African Affairs in the US Department of State. “There’s a particular emphasis for this administration on democracy, governance, human rights, and rebuilding and strengthening our partnerships and alliances across the world, including African universities, as they fit in here.”

Click here to watch the full discussion.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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