University Partnership Initiative Summit set to boost US-SA higher education partnerships

Posted on January 31, 2023

The University of Pretoria (UP) is set to host the first University Partnership Initiative (UPI) Summit, funded by the USA’s State Department. The summit will take place at UP’s Future Africa Campus from 6 to 8 February 2023.

The UPI Summit will provide a platform to share experiences and lessons from the State Department’s investments in collaborative projects between African and United States higher education institutions. The summit will also explore approaches to strengthen, leverage and expand these partnerships to create a more sustainable impact on society in the post-COVID era. The theme for the Summit is: ‘Equitable and Sustainable Partnerships for Impact’, and it is free and open to interested people working in or close to the sector.

“In celebrating the success of these US-SA higher education partnerships, the University of Pretoria is proud to host the first University Partnership Initiative (UPI) Summit, which showcases the remarkable achievements of the US-SA Higher Education Network by bringing together our greatest minds from universities in South Africa, Africa, the United States, and beyond,” said Professor Sunil Maharaj, Vice Principal: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Education at UP.

“This summit marks a key milestone in the relationship between our two nations, and celebrates the strides, efforts, and milestones achieved by South African, African and United States partner universities.”

Through the US-SA HEN a number of national, continental and US institutions of higher education have been collaborating with the objective of increasing the number of staff and student exchanges between the United States, South Africa and other African countries.

Background to US-SA HEN

The South African Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation provided seed funding to the University of Pretoria and its collaborating partners, the University of Venda and Rutgers University-Newark, in 2018, under the auspices of the University Capacity Development Programme. From the initial investment in the US-SA HEN by the Department, a total of 12 projects were funded, to the value of R44m, involving 14 South African universities and 17 US universities. This resulted in a total of 38 exchanges between institutions in both countries and benefited 102 doctoral students, of which 79% are black South Africans.

In 2020 the United States Embassy in Pretoria invested a further $500,000 (R8,2m) in the expansion of the network and charged the collaborating partners with further growing and strengthening the initiative.

Some of the highlights since the launch of the second phase of the US-SA HEN include:

  • Leveraging existing partnerships and programmes to accelerate the process of establishing joint programmes.
  • Exploring mechanisms where South African universities can adopt an “anchor institution” mandate to addresses key imperatives such as strengthening institutional, economic, physical and public roles universities should play in order to promote social, cultural and democratic values, social transformation and redress.
  • Training educators from early childhood development centres on sensory gardens, which help children develop gross and fine motor skills.
  • Using interactive and hands-on exhibits and related programmes in South Africa in order to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning to future-fit youth in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. Sci-Enza, an interactive science centre at the University of Pretoria which targets disadvantaged learners, has produced over 10 learning videos aimed at developing material to support educators in SA and the US to make the STEM curriculum interactive and engaging to high school learners – these will be showcased during the UPI Summit.
  • Addressing some of the unique contexts and needs of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the USA and Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs) in South Africa – and how such institutions can  play an instrumental role in the co-creation and co-development of knowledge and innovation ecosystems tackling grand challenges.
  • In 2021 the US-SA HEN launched the USSAVI (United States-South Africa Virtual Incubator), which provides postgraduate students at institutions in the US and SA with entrepreneurial education and training in areas such as food security and agriculture, sustainable urbanisation, mathematics, science, education and other fields.

UPI Summit agenda

“The US-SA Higher Education Network, is an excellent success story, which demonstrates the impact of “Collaborations for Change”: which is geared towards strengthening student and staff exchanges between universities in South Africa, Africa and the United States. Such exchanges and collaborations have aided universities to develop new ways of responding to complex social, cultural, economic and environmental problems by adapting educational approaches and scholarship,” said Dr Rakeshnie Ramoutar-Prieschl, Principal Investigator for the US-SA HEN and Head: Research Capacity Development at UP.

“It could not come at a more opportune time, as we as knowledge workers rethink the future of work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, redefine a new norm, and build a better tomorrow.”

Building on the previous US-SA HEN successes, the summit aims to:

  • Promote cross-project learning and networking among the project coordinators of UPI-supported projects across Africa.
  • Facilitate the sharing of outcomes and experiences by beneficiaries of the US-Africa higher education partnership projects.
  • Enhance awareness of the US-SA Higher Education Network and other established networks to foster wider and deeper collaboration.
  • Facilitate a policy dialogue between relevant stakeholders to support the reimagining of US-Africa higher education partnerships in the post-COVID-19 era.

“Noting the global nature and similarity of the challenges we face, it is my firm belief that it can only be through collaborations and partnerships that we will be able to develop lasting solutions to these complex challenges. Through collaboration, we will be able to fully exploit our collective strengths, share learnings and maximise on our limited resources,” Dr Ramoutar-Prieschl added.

Threading through many of the partnerships is the African Global University Project (AGUP), launched in 2021. AGUP is UP’s transformative internationalisation and global engagement initiative.

“The AGUP initiative enables the University of Pretoria to develop and manage institutional-level strategic partnerships, specifically as they relate to Africa,” said Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria.

“These partnerships are intended to have pan-African impact, enhance UP’s reach and relevance, and facilitate innovation and thought leadership. This African-oriented but globally enabled approach to partnerships allows the University of Pretoria to be the ideal partner for the US-SA HEN.”

Frank Whitaker, Minister Counsellor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Pretoria, said: “This event is a springboard for demonstrating the impact long-term partnerships for mutual benefit – as much as there is a focus on increasing the quality and quantity of well-rounded doctoral candidates, there is also a parallel focus on adapting traditional educational approaches and developing lasting solutions to some of the challenges that afflict our global society – all of which can be leveraged through mutually beneficial collaborations and partnerships.”

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