University of Pretoria and University of Leeds strategic partnership agreement: a model for radical partnerships

Posted on May 31, 2023

Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, and Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, recently signed a strategic partnership agreement which takes further the institutional memorandum of understanding signed by the two universities in April 2021. By enhancing existing collaborations between the two universities, the new partnership agreement signifies a significant milestone in the pursuit of global educational excellence. It also contributes more dedicated resourcing, while committing to a global view of the challenges that both institutions continue to tackle together.

The agreement was signed at the culmination of a highly successful Africa Week 2023 and will, over the next five years, leverage each institution’s respective strengths to create clear platforms for collaborative research. The agreement will also expand international collaboration in digital education to co-create shared education and training for degree programmes and qualifications, undergrad to postdoctoral, summer schools and lifelong learning. Additionally, student exchange programmes and faculty development initiatives will nurture the next generation of researchers and enable the partnership to compete for large-scale funding for transformative initiatives.

The strengthened bilateral partnership also engages in universities networks for more reach and impact. Both universities are members of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), which held its AGM between 22–24 May in Monterrey, Mexico, at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, where both institutions’ vice-chancellors and vice-principals participated. During the closing ceremony of Africa Week 2023, Prof Kupe announced that UP will host the WUN AGM 2024 on African soil at Future Africa from 20 to 22 May 2024.

Strategic partnership agreement goals

By pooling their resources and expertise, UP and the University of Leeds aim to make a significant impact on society, both locally and globally. Such an example is the envisioned Global Network for Sustainable Development (GNSD), which links global academic excellence with impact partners at regional and local community levels, to prioritise action for the most vulnerable.

New initiatives will exhibit UP and Leeds’ commitment to the transformation of academic culture with new models of equitable partnership and leadership that emphasise equity of Global North and Global South influence by prioritising action where a joint voice reflects African-led research agendas. Through the deepened partnership agreement, UP and Leeds also commit to provide leadership for the broad Knowledge Equity Network (KEN) as a global movement for critical mass to transform open, equitable access to knowledge and KEN’s conception as a shared global University without Borders. KEN was launched during Africa Week on Thursday 25 May, by Profs Buitendijk and Kupe at Future Africa.

During the next five years both institutions will endeavour to drive a truly transdisciplinary partnership and prioritise activities for novel collaboration across SDGs that focus on reducing hunger, increasing gender and health equity, and delivering climate action.

In addition to UP and Leeds both being committed to bridging the digital divide, digital transformation through the universities will also see shared digital education platforms at master’s-level for student education and continuous, professional development with twinned and joint-degree programmes and demand-led upskilling and re-skilling.

The new agreement also commits to building on the success of existing sustainable food systems collaborations, such as the UKRI-funded GCRF Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa), to create joint strengths in areas such as:

  • human rights and African voices and influence in global agendas;
  • environmental sustainability, climate, water resources, land use, and biodiversity;
  • digital transformation for sustainable cities and smart health systems; and
  • youth entrepreneurship for economic and social value creation.

Additionally, the partnership will facilitate student mobility programmes, allowing undergraduate and postgraduate students to broaden their horizons and gain valuable international exposure. This exchange of students will foster cross-cultural understanding, promote diversity, and nurture the next generation of global leaders equipped with a broader worldview.

Prof Kupe said the potential for the partnership is transformative and exemplary of partnership models between the Global North and South that have strategic intentionality and dedicated resources for impact.

“The newly signed strategic partnership agreement between UP and University of Leeds will transform research collaboration through the creation of transdisciplinary partnerships that harmonise research and student education to deliver novel, innovative partnerships for thought leadership and to demonstrate how co-created, equitable partnerships might be realised,” he said.

The University of Pretoria and the University of Leeds are committed to upholding the highest standards of academic excellence, integrity, and diversity. This strategic partnership reflects their shared values and commitment to addressing societal challenges through collaborative efforts.

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