Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
New unit creates “innately different” global learning opportunities.
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 23/05/2024

​​Stellenbosch University (SU) International's newly established Global Learning Unit has hit the ground running, giving direction to a number of global learning education programmes and initiatives that aim to advance SU's internationalisation agenda.

The Unit, which was launched in March 2024, falls under the Centre for Global Engagement's global education arm. Senior programme manager Sarah Richmond says the Global Learning Unit and its programmes are well aligned with the University's position on internationalisation and what it means to be an institution rooted in Africa, but with a global reach. “Many of the Unit's programmes are well established offerings that look at redefining what global learning means, both for international students coming to Africa, and for Stellenbosch students, who have an array of global experiences to choose from while completing their degrees," Richmond says.

Won't get this anywhere else

She adds: “Our Global Learning Unit looks at how we can create impactful and authentic global learning experiences for all students that pass through SU. We want to ensure that the experiences available to all students, both inside and outside the classroom, result in learning outcomes that are innately different from what they will get anywhere else."

In addition, the learning outcomes of the Unit's programmes are linked to the UNESCO chair in intercultural competence, housed in SU International's Africa Centre for Scholarship. The chair promotes an integrated system of research, teaching and training to advance intercultural competence. “The chair was established at SU to study and shape both existing and future narratives around what it means to be interculturally competent from an African perspective," Richmond explains. “A lot of what it means to be interculturally competent and responsible in internationalisation is currently defined by the global north, so the chair is intended to fill that gap, also in our design of global learning initatives."

Ensuring that students integrate, participate and thrive

The Global Learning Unit's programmes cover four main themes, namely student integration, student life and success, academic opportunities, and internationalisation at home.

Student integration involves both the integration of international students, whether semester or full-degree students, at SU, and the integration of local students with the international cohort. “Our role is to facilitate community-centred integration in a genuine way, such as enabling students to have a braai together and gather for events such as the Rugby World Cup, for example," Richmond says. “We keep our ear to the ground to identify areas where students feel excluded so that we can help them create a space for authentic integration."

Under the theme of student life and success, in turn, the Unit takes care of students' physical and mental health needs and also facilitates the International Students Society, which hosts integrative cultural events.

Tailored academic opportunities

Students from abroad are offered various tailored academic opportunities in the mainstream and co-curricular space to equip them with a basic knowledge of South African history, politics, pop culture and the HIV/Aids pandemic. Special language courses presented by the SU Language Centre also enable international students to connect with the country and its people from a linguistic point of view. In addition, students are offered the opportunity to engage in volunteer programmes that follow a global citizenship-based approach to responsible engagement with vulnerable communities.

Internationalisation at home

Finally, the Unit's efforts in the field of internationalisation at home are aimed at offering an international experience to the many local students who are not able to study abroad. As Richmond explains: “The reality is that most local students might not be able to study abroad. It is expensive, even though SU International tries to support students through scholarships and travel bursaries. Many degrees' academic structure also does not allow for students to spend a semester abroad."

To overcome this, initiatives such as the Matie Buddy programme allow local students to be paired up with international students. Amani, the newly reformed African Student Board, also looks at integration, leadership and cultural immersion. “Moreover, various COIL (collaborative online integrated learning) initiatives with our partners make it possible for students who cannot travel to interact with international students and discover different perspectives," Richmond says. “Some of these are run by SU professors as part of the syllabus, while others are run in conjunction with the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute and the Co-curricular Office."

Additionally, SU's membership of various international networks offers multiple online international opportunities. These include the Global Citizenship course hosted along with the INU network, and the Certificate in Internationalisation, for which SU is a tutor as a member of the EUTOPIA network.

Fluid and innovative

“The purpose of the Global Learning Unit is to be fluid and innovative as we improve and revamp our flagship global learning programmes, and co-create new initatives with our students and academics," Richmond concludes. “We aim to expand all avenues of global connection to create the most impactful and transformative experience we can."