True to its commitment to purposeful partnerships in the education and research sphere, Stellenbosch University (SU) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy (ICLD). The agreement will ensure increased collaboration in developing local democracy over the next two years.
Signed by SU's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, and ICLD secretary general, Johan Lilja, in separate virtual ceremonies on 15 July, the MoU enables engaged scholarship between several research institutes, universities and municipalities from South Africa, Sweden and other African countries. Partners form part of the ICLD's municipal partnership programme. Swedish municipalities are paired up with their counterparts in the participating countries. Together with academic partners, they then conduct projects on different human rights matters ranging from accessibility and gender equality to the inclusion of youth, and children's rights.
In South Africa, the ICLD and some Swedish municipalities are already working together with the municipalities of Stellenbosch, Bergrivier, JB Marks and Overstrand.
The MoU between SU and the ICLD stipulates that both signatories will offer scholarships and stipends for master's and PhD students, provide opportunities for data collection on local democracies, host joint seminars and workshops, involve researchers as external experts in programmes, as well as undertake exchange visits for research purposes.
Commenting on the agreement, Lilja highlights the importance of close collaboration. “Through collaboration, we can have a concrete impact on sustainable development and local democracy. This MoU with Stellenbosch University marks the beginning of a productive and fruitful long-term partnership that will strive to benefit citizens at the local level," he says.
Prof De Villiers is equally pleased with the MoU, and excited at its potential benefits: “The collaboration is part of the ICLD project in Africa, which engages with several local governments, including with Stellenbosch Municipality, who has been paired up with the Swedish city of Jönköping. The idea is also to expand our current link in engineering with Jönköping University in support of the existing 'town and gown' initiative. Moreover, this agreement has the potential to strengthen the productive link we have with our own municipality," says De Villiers.
The partnership was initiated in February when the ICLD approached SU's Division of Social Impact to suggest a long-term strategic partnership as part of a programme that links local governments and academia. The ultimate aim is to strengthen human rights locally, using the United Nations sustainable development goals as a guiding framework.
According to Lilja, academia plays an essential part in providing expertise and conducting research on local processes of change. In addition to SU, the ICLD has approached other universities and research institutions to join the programme. The academic partners in South Africa are the University of Johannesburg and the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights and the School of Governance, the latter two of the University of Western Cape. Other research institutions in Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Kenia, Tanzania and Indonesia are also involved in the programme.