University of the Free State: AU delegation visits UFS to discuss collaborating opportunities

A delegation from the African Union Development Agency’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) strategic initiative visited the University of the Free State (UFS) (7 to 9 June 2022) to explore possible areas of collaboration between the institutions.

The delegation that visited the UFS consisted of Ms Fati N’zi-Hassane, Head of AUDA-NEPAD’s Division for Human and Institutional Development; Dr Justina Dugbazah, the Senior Programme Education and Social Development Coordinator of the African Union Panel on Emerging Technologies’ Calestus Juma Executive Dialogue (APET-CJED) programme; and Ms Barbara Glover, Programme Officer at APET AUDA-NEPAD.

In welcoming the delegation, Dr Molapo Qhobela, Vice-Rector: Institutional Change, Strategic Partnerships, and Societal Impact, expressed the willingness of the UFS to collaborate with AUDA-NEPAD: “We as universities are resources, among others a resource to the African Union, to use our knowledge, our understanding, and our intellectual capacity, that which will support your work and then downstream support member states.”

Showcasing best practices

Dr Qhobela continued, asking, “What is it that we as universities – as sources of ideas – can collaborate on? How can we collaborate on the things we are committed to, matters that are also a priority for the continent, for instance health, agriculture, food security, water, and gender studies? How can we use this knowledge to inform the choices we as member states are making?”

In investigating areas for collaboration, the delegation, under the direction of Dr Marinkie Madiope, UFS South Campus Principal and Vice-President of the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the CJED, met with a number of UFS entities. They also held a dialogue with university students.

Following the meeting with the Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof Joyce Tsoka-Gwegweni, Dr Bonnie Maloba from the Department of Medical Microbiology, and Head of the UFS Women’s Forum and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Nombulelo Shange, a recommendation was made for a dialogue to bring together stakeholders across the continent to showcase best practices. Moreover, the AUDA-NEPAD delegation also expressed its preparedness to facilitate and initiate engagements between the faculty and the Africa Centres for Disease Control to enhance collaboration on priority areas. Furthermore, it has been proposed that researchers in malaria and tuberculosis (TB) be introduced to the Integrated Vector Management Programme and other TB programmes of AUDA-NEPAD to support knowledge sharing.

The delegation also visited the South Campus, where it met with the South Campus Exco representatives and staff from the Social Responsibility Unit (SRU) in the Department of Social Responsibility, Enterprise and Community Engagement to look at their work in integrating technology into the teaching and learning space. Representatives from the two institutions agreed that there is a need to fully define what good education in Africa should look like. According to Dr Madiope, although education matters are often country- or system-specific due to the varying interests, approaches, and learning methodologies on the continent, there is a need to kickstart discussions continentally. Both Dr Dugbazah and Ms Glover agreed that the UFS-SRU experience can become a model in other African countries for engagements by the CJED programme on teacher development, the use of virtual tools in education, and the role of universities in their communities.

The youth – the leaders of our future

The youth is one of the stakeholders to whom AUDA-NEPAD wants to reach out. “They are the leaders of our future,” said Dr Dugbazah. In a dialogue, the delegation heard from selected students about their impressions of the African Union, what they believe Africa’s challenges are, and most importantly, innovative solutions to these challenges. During this discussion, students expressed the need for engagement with their peers at other universities on the continent. AUDA-NEPAD challenged the students to kickstart such an initiative and indicated that it would support this venture by connecting student groups across the continent.

Dr Madiope believes that a collaboration with AUDA-NEPAD will enhance a continental reach for the university’s best practices and support inter-African collaborations. “AUDA-NEPAD is poised as a continental convener of vital stakeholders for engagements on various issues. These engagements would also serve as advocacy for the success stories of the university beyond South Africa, supporting its strategic goal of visibility and impact.”

She stated that AUDA-NEPAD and the UFS could work together through platforms such as the Calestous Juma Executive Dialogue to make a continental impact on the harnessing of innovation and emerging technologies for Africa’s socio-economic development.