Zim – SA higher education partnerships for excellence

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BY Willie Chinyamurindi & Munacinga Simatele
THE new normal has been revealing. An oscillation between threats and opportunities. On one end, we are exposed and the revelation, our great need for physical connectedness. The restrictions posed by the COVID-19 have limited our ability to connect.

Conversely, the new normal has also revealed how much we need partnerships to thrive, with technology playing an important part. For African universities, it becomes vital to collaborate. Consequently, African universities are beginning to realise the importance of forging partnerships for promoting African excellence.

Our weeklong visit funded through the South African National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences allows travel of South Africa-based scholars to Zimbabwe for partnerships and capacity building.  Three main strands are prioritised. First, the need to promote pockets of research excellence within themes of the social sciences and humanities. Second, capacity building on matters of research supervision. Third, aspects related to improved teaching and learning to cover technology enhanced teaching and the need for a decolonised curriculum.

The cross-pollination of ideas, especially within African universities is needed because our presented challenges, often similar, necessitate the need for working together. However, the situation on the African continent is still ominous. A recent World Bank report directs focus in improving continental dynamic capabilities. For such to happen, a twofold focus is needed.

First, African universities need to develop a skilled human resource cohort of world-class standards. Such a cohort needs to be sufficiently trained and also entrenched in solving local challenges. Other aspects of focus should pay attention to human resource practices, such as talent management strategies and remuneration. This addresses the challenge of the brain drain where African labour is mainly benefiting Western countries. Let’s improve the material conditions of the African workforce. There is no other substitute for quality.

A second priority is an investment in technologies of the future. Something as basic as an investment in affordable high-speed internet connectivity can assist in the developmental agenda. There is a noted observation that many of our socio-economic imperatives require this development orientation in mind. For instance, we note the rise in aspects of informality on the African continent. There is a need for such technologies to arrive in such sectors where our people ply their trades.

The role of the African university becomes critical also in all this.

Many African countries have a growing youth population, Zimbabwe and South Africa are not spared. There is a need for continued investment in this young population. Many of these young people still see the university as a helpful outlet to get the skills for the workforce. The African university becomes an essential citadel with the potential of a spill-over effect to other sectors of society.

A second work to be prioritised in African universities centres around addressing infrastructure challenges. A Deloitte report bemoans the challenge of infrastructure as a significant obstacle to Africa achieving total economic growth. To enhance competitiveness, there is a need to invest in infrastructure that encourages connectivity in African universities.

The critical role of partnerships becomes necessary now more than ever. This is the type of collaboration that is mutually beneficial by maximizing economies of scale and fostering synergies.

Our visit to Zimbabwe attests to the importance of such collaboration especially among African scholars. Through this funded trip, we aim to forge partnerships for African excellence. We look forward to engaging with colleagues and students at a number of Zimbabwean universities and seeking collaboration in research, joint teaching, new curriculum development, short course attendance, and the training of undergraduate and postgraduate students.

As a research team we are already impressed by the growing number of universities in Zimbabwe. This is also affirmed by the fact that the education system in Zimbabwe is still one of the best on the African continent and lauded even abroad.  Such partnerships as the ones we hope to establish attest to the continued need and praise for working together advocated for on the African continent. The five pillars adopted by the Zimbabwe Higher and Tertiary Education ministry, Science and Technology Development of education 5,0 become important crucibles to these partnerships. An African university must exhibit intentionality in a) research; b) teaching; c) community service; d) innovation and e) industrialisation ideals. We also have a leaf from the frontline States to borrow from as a further witness to our continued need for each other.

As Africans we must be on the forefront in writing our own distinctive African stories.

  • Willie Chinyamurindi is the head of department for Business Management and Professor at the University of Fort Hare.
  • ˜Munacinga Simatele is a Professor of Economics at the University of Fort Hare.