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Vice Chancellors Leadership Dialogue: “Internationalisation in higher education – implications for the knowledge project in the South” 21-22 June 2012

Outcomes of the second SARUA Vice Chancellors Leadership Dialogue on ‘Internationalisation in Higher Education – Implications for the knowledge project in the global south’

Southern African universities need to be more assertive about defining their own interests when negotiating international partnerships with universities and donors in northern countries. They also need to harness more opportunities to strike intra-regional and south-south agreements that can foster innovation and new knowledge.

These were the outcomes of the SARUA Vice Chancellors Leadership Dialogue on ‘Internationalisation in Higher Education – Implications for the knowledge project in the global south’, held in Maputo, Mozambique, on 21 and 22 June 2012. The Dialogue was convened by the Southern Africa Regional Universities Association (SARUA) in partnership with the International Association of Universities, and hosted by Eduardo Mondlane University and Lurio University. 76 university leaders from 15 different countries were present: Angola, Botswana, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malaysia, Mozambique, Portugal, South Africa, Tanzania, United States of America and Zimbabwe.

Worldwide, internationalisation is having increasing influence in academia. It is not only limited to student mobility between institutions. Instead, it involves the exploration and exchange of ideas, theories, discourses and conceptual frameworks. While its purpose should be to enrich the academic goals of universities and foster new opportunities to generate knowledge, many southern African universities are not being sufficiently proactive in harnessing the potential of internationalisation for the development of new knowledge.

Southern African countries show clear evidence of a rising demand for higher education. However, university leaders in the region have to contend with the challenge of meeting this growing demand in the face of dwindling numbers of academic staff, an ageing professoriate and low levels of research output. Internationalisation was identified at the Dialogue as an important source of higher education revitalisation of in southern Africa, as long as the international partnerships and relationships can be structured on terms that foster institutional, national and regional goals. “Internationalisation is a mechanism for transformation, and we need to ask how it can contribute to achieving wider institutional goals,” said Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary General of the IAU.

Higher education internationalisation in Africa is not new, as Professor Paul Zeleza, Dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University, pointed out: “…the ancient universities of Africa, Asia, and Europe were designed and served as regional communities of learning and scholarship”. After independence, many universities in the African context were ‘international’ because, like the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, they were staffed by foreign academics who were largely drawn from the former colonial powers, and attracted students from different countries in the region owing to the shortage of universities directly after independence. According to Zeleza, current trends perpetuate entrenched global relationships because “the flows of students and academics to and the borrowing of institutional and intellectual models from the North have dominated the historic patterns of internationalisation for African higher education institutions”.

If Southern African universities are to strengthen their academic programmes and respond to the need for higher education in their countries, they need to develop clear strategies for incorporating internationalisation into their operations in ways that benefit their institutional development. Ironically, the 1967 Arusha Declaration provided Africa with the opportunity to formalise higher education cooperation and international exchange three decades prior to the Bologna Process, launched in Europe in 1999. James Otieno Jowi, Director of the African Network for Internationalisation of Education, suggests that the region’s failure to implement the Arusha Declaration meant that an important opportunity was lost for higher education internationalisation on African terms. As a result, higher education on the continent has continued to fall further behind that of its northern counterparts.

There was strong agreement among the vice chancellors that southern African universities need to define their interests through proactive institutional engagement and secure partnerships on terms that are mutually beneficial. Those partnerships may be within the region, across the southern hemisphere or with institutions in northern countries. Examples from Malaysia’s Albukhary International University and Brazil’s UNILAB, presented at the Dialogue, demonstrated ways in which this might be achieved.

Higher education institutions in the SADC region are at different stages of internationalisation, particularly in how they respond to partnership opportunities. One of the suggestions arising from the dialogue is that more research is required to understand how internationalisation operates in the regional higher education sector and which arrangements work most effectively for different institutions. Professor Zeleza argued that in order to revitalise scholarly production, universities need to decide what knowledge interests they want to pursue, what knowledge regimes would be most desirable, and what kinds of knowledge alliances would produce these.

The Dialogue identified internationalisation as one mechanism for strengthening higher education in southern Africa. There was widespread recognition of the role that SARUA has played in facilitating conversations on this topic, and further engagement was encouraged between key players in the SADC region, be they bilateral partners, inter-regional, regional, sub-regional and international actors.

Further information about the Dialogue, is available on the SARUA website: Please contact Fadzayi Chambati on 27 11 717 3952 or for further information.


  • Event Programme: CLICK HERE
  • Prof Paul Tiyambe Zeleza's Paper  "Internationalization in Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges for the Knowledge Project in the Global South": CLICK HERE
  • Prof. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak's concept Note "Another World is Desirable: CLICK HERE
  • Prof. James Otieno Jowi's Presentation "Redefining terms of engagement between scholars worldwide": CLCIK HERE
  • Eva Egron Polocks Presentation "Affirming academic values in higher education internationalisation: Presentation on the IAU’s Call for Action: CLICK HERE