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SARUA was established to assist in the revitalisation and development of the leadership and institutions of higher education in the Southern African region, thus enabling the regional higher education sector to meaningfully respond to the developmental challenges facing the region. Since then, SARUA has conducted numerous leadership dialogues, and undertaken a wide range of research projects. By means of these projects, SARUA has done pioneering work in mapping the status and profile of the higher education sector within the SADC, including country profiles. It has also produced various reports on compelling themes such as climate change, science and technology development within the SADC, and strategies for strengthening the interaction between higher education, the public sector and industry. These studies have made a significant contribution towards the development of a comprehensive and shared development agenda for the region, and to the definition of priorities that the higher education sector must address.

Building on this work, SARUA has continued to host regular annual leadership dialogues in which vice-chancellors and other senior university leaders consider topics such as internationalisation in higher education, open access and research publications in Africa, global trends in technology in higher education, and the contribution of universities and innovation to inclusive regional development. The purpose of these exchanges is to contribute to planning and policy, but also to joint research and curriculum development. One of the success stories that emanated from the leadership dialogues, is the creation of the Curriculum Innovation Network (SCIN) in 2015. The SCIN network is based on the recommendations of the SARUA Programme for Climate Change Capacity Development (PCCCD) which was initiated at a meeting of Vice-Chancellors in 2010 in order to significantly enhance the climate adaptive capacity and resilience of the SADC region through the development of a collaborative network of higher education institutions. The network has developed a customised Master’s degree programme in Climate Change and Sustainable Development, through a university delivery consortium consisting of seven universities.

During 2017, SARUA collaborated with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in South Africa, and the Southern African Quality Assurance Network (SAQAN) to present a workshop on quality assurance in the SADC. The workshop focused on the identification of capacity-building needs for the improvement of internal (IQA) and external quality assurance (EQA). The workshop presented a vital opportunity for assessing the status of internal and external quality assurance systems, and for learning from experience in other parts of the world, such as other African regions and the European Union. The workshop proposed various principles for taking the work on internal and quality assurance systems forward within the context of the draft African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.

SARUA acknowledges the tremendous contribution of Ms Piyushi Kotecha, its founding Chief Executive Officer, for the vision and drive with which she has taken the Association forward. She has consistently promoted a robust vision of higher education that benefits all countries of the region, and has lead the Association in the development of an immensely rich knowledge base, wide networks, highly pertinent regional higher education studies, innovative programmes and sound pathways to consolidate regional collaboration.

Professor Martin Oosthuizen is the executive director of the South African Regional Universities Association as of January 2018.