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UNESCO Chair on Intercultural Competences awarded to SU
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking
Published: 29/05/2023

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair in Intercultural Competences has been awarded to Stellenbosch University (SU). An SU affiliated distinguished fellow from the USA, Dr Darla Deardorff, will be the Chairholder with Co-Chairholder Professor Sarah Howie, Director of the ACS.

The Chair will be housed within the Africa Centre for Scholarship (ACS) in Stellenbosch University International (SU International).

The announcement of the UNESCO Chair was made during the annual Stellenbosch International Academic Network (SIAN) meeting where 77 international universities joined SU International to celebrate 30 years of internationalisation at SU. Recently a delegation from the South African National Commission for UNESCO visited SU to meet with the new UNESCO Chair's Stellenbosch team.

The UNESCO Chair, awarded for a four-year period from 2023 to 2027, forms part of the global UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme. This programme involves a network of some 900 institutions in over 120 countries and promotes international inter-university cooperation and networking to enhance institutional capacities through knowledge-sharing and collaborative work in education, the natural and social sciences, culture and communication.

The inauguration of the UNESCO Chair at SU will take place in August 2023.

Intercultural competences

The UNESCO Chair in Intercultural Competences will draw on the expertise of the Chairholder, Dr Deardorff, a world-renowned expert on intercultural competence*, along with the expertise of Co-Chairholder Prof Howie in integrating in-depth knowledge of intercultural competencies, educational research and capacity development in Africa.

The Chair will promote an integrated system of research, teaching and training, as well as community engagement and communication. It will facilitate collaboration between high-level, internationally recognised researchers and teaching staff of SU and other institutions in the region and in other regions of the world.

According to Deardorff, research to date on intercultural and global competence, often focuses on knowledge, along with skills, and attitudes. “Increasingly, there is research about social-emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and discussion around empathy and compassion. This, coupled with conversations around intersectionalities and the overlay of justice, equity, diversity, belonging, and inclusion, yields many research questions that need further investigation. The UNESCO Chair intends to work with partners internationally to delve further into some key questions to move from research to concrete practice, which in the end, points to our shared humanity," Deardorff explained.

She shared the intention of the UNESCO Chair to re-think the lens of intercultural competence. “Our interconnectedness allows us to shift our perspective. For instance, what if we viewed others through the lens of neighbour, both our local and global neighbours? And what does it take to get along together – as neighbours? This could shift our way of thinking about intercultural competence as some abstract concept and make it more real."

Global network

Howie said the Chair will convene a global network of researchers and practitioners to develop joint projects on intercultural competences with an African and gender equality focus to develop and assess intercultural competency within the classroom, in the curriculum and within communities. “We will also work on projects where intercultural competencies may be less strong as an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, for example by addressing gender equity, conflict and climate change, in order to strengthen intercultural competencies associated with the implementation of these projects," Howie said.

Deardorff added that the Chair intends to also contribute to institutional development by strengthening intercultural competencies among relevant stakeholders and competencies through North-South-South and South-South university collaboration. “The UNESCO Chair of Intercultural Competences at Stellenbosch University presents a unique opportunity and platform for building on the intercultural efforts already undertaken and to extend and leverage this opportunity in collaboration with global partners to delve further into research to praxis, to build intercultural capacity within this continent in order to build a better world together," Deardorff said.​



Darla K. Deardorff completed her Ed.D in Higher Education Administration at North Carolina State University, USA, with a focus on international education following a Masters in Adult Education.  She is the executive director of the Association of International Education Administrators and Founding President of the World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence. In addition to her affiliation with Stellenbosch University, she holds several academic appointments including as Research Fellow at Duke University. She was a former faculty member at Harvard University's Global Education Think Tank. She has conducted cross-cultural training for universities, companies and non-profit organisations for over 25 years and has published widely on international education, intercultural competence and outcomes assessment with over a dozen books and 70+ book chapters and articles.  She is invited regularly to speak and consult around the world and  has advised organisations such as UNESCO, OECD, AFS International and International Baccalaureate.


Sarah J. Howie completed her PhD in Education at University of Twente, the Netherlands. She is the founding Director of the Africa Centre for Scholarship and Professor in the Centre for Higher and Adult Education at Stellenbosch University. She has almost 30 years of research experience in international comparative studies in education while leading many research project teams. She has published extensively internationally in 85 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and five books. During the past 20 years she has facilitated research capacity development across the continent and beyond at doctoral level. She has advised international organisations such as the IEA, OECD, UNICEF, UNESCO and World Bank. She has a passion for education and the development of researchers on the African continent.

International liaison for the Chair's African and global network

Sarah Jane van der Westhuizen is the Director for the Centre for Global Engagement, Stellenbosch University International. Sarah Jane is passionate about international education, global engagement and global learning and strongly believes in the transformative impact of global, collaborative educational activities. She has been involved in the field of international education since 2009. She holds a master's degree in philosophy.

Programme coordinator – Training and capacity building initiatives

Werner de Wit is the Programme Manager: Short Term Mobility at Stellenbosch University International. He holds BComm & LLB Bachelor degrees, and an MPhil (Higher Education). His research focuses on the development of intercultural competences. Student learning, leadership and development, Internationalisation and Intercultural Competences are topics he is passionate about and will be pursuing for his PhD (Higher Education). He has worked over the past 10 years in developing short term study abroad opportunities facilitating global learning of international and local students at SU.

  • Photo: Ms Sarah van der Westhuizen, Director for the Centre for Global Engagement (SUI), Mr Werner de Wit, Programme Manager: Short Term Mobility at SUI, Mr Carlton Mukwevho, Secretary-General, SA National Commission of UNESCO; Prof Sarah Howie, Co-Chairholder; Mr Motopi Rampedi, Secretary of the National Commissionl; and, Mr Robert Kotze, Senior Director, SUI