University of South Africa: High-level Unisa delegation in France to advance Science Diplomacy

A high-level delegation from the University of South Africa (Unisa) is on a research and innovation mission in France to attend the South African Higher Education Institutions Research Week. The event started in Paris, France on Monday, 27 June 2022. The itinerary will also include a visit to Montpellier, one of the French cities renowned for being the hub of Science and Innovation.

The Unisa delegation, comprising of representatives from relevant colleges and departments, is led by Professor SR Magano, the, Executive Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences(CAES), Professor M Masenya, Executive Director: Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor K M Masemola, Executive Dean, College of Human Sciences (CHS) as well as Prof M Maaza from the School of Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Studies (SIRGS) in the College of Graduate Studies(CGS)

The visit is an integral part of the university’s new vision, which is anchored amongst others, on the need to advance and enhance internationalization and strategic partnerships, especially in research, innovation, engaged scholarship as well science diplomacy, based on the Catalytic Niche Areas that foreground the vision of Unisa under the leadership of the Principal and Vice Chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula.

The event is attended by 23 South African universities represented by senior officials such as Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors, senior officials from the South African Department of Higher Education (DHET) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) among others. Also in attendance from the local context were the President of France Universities, Professor Tunon de Lara, HE Mr T Seokolo, the Ambassador of South Africa to France and the Ambassador of France to South Africa, HE Mr Aurèlian Lechevallier.

The research week was organised by Campus France and the Office of the South African Embassy in France and the opening ceremony was hosted by Science Po, an organisation that invests in research and innovation initiatives both inside and outside of France. The last of this initiative was organised in 2015 in concert with South African universities.

What emerged from the various presentations, speeches and panel discussions during the opening session was the critical need to solidify existing partnerships on science and innovation within institutions of higher education as well as the need to establish new partnerships in both countries.

The need for the empowerment of youth, especially in the South African context, was also highlighted as crucial, especially given the fact that South Africa is on top of the global list of countries with high youth unemployment rates.

Some of the delegates to the event, in particular the Ambassador of South Africa to France, His Excellency Mr Seokolo, confessed that he has never before been exposed to a gathering in which so many academics from higher education institutions in South Africa were in attendance in France.

Professor de Lara emphasised that reciprocity is key. The Masters programme that began in September 2020 was cited as an example of the improvement in bilateral relations. Furthermore, Health, Agriculture and Sustainable Development have also been earmarked as fields that will stimulate innovation as per the 2030 agenda.

Professor Masemola, Executive Dean: College of Human Sciences (CHS) captured this historic moment as follows:

“The first morning of the Journèe Pays Afrique was phenomenal for us. As far as Catalytic Niche Areas are concerned, it is clear, as pointed out by Mr Matthieu Peyraud, Director for Culture, Education, Research and Networking Coordination (French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs) and His Excellency, Mr Lechevallier that collaboration in Marine Studies, using the Mozambique Channel as well as the Square Kilometre Array project is very important”. NRF CEO, Professor Fulufhelo Nelwamondo affirmed that there are indeed funds available for guaranteed exchange between us in order to catalyse innovation in these two areas in particular.