Collaboration is essential to universities realising their institutional goals, and for that reason, purposeful partnerships and inclusive networks are among Stellenbosch University's (SU) core strategic themes.
This was emphasised during a recent visit by members of the Cape Town Consular Corps to SU's new state-of-the-art Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI) at the Tygerberg Campus—home to the university's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).
“It is a strategic objective of the university to foster international partnerships with people like yourselves. It makes our world bigger and brings new perspectives to our faculty and university," Prof Elmi Muller, FMHS Dean, told the delegation in her welcoming remarks.
The visiting Consular Corps members were made up of Consuls General, Consuls, Honorary Consuls and other consular officials representing 18 different countries. The purpose of the event was to showcase the university's facilities and to build on the existing relationships between SU and the Consular Corps.
SU has formal bilateral partnerships and other forms of collaboration with higher education institutions in each of these countries, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, told dignitaries. “We have no fewer than 339 partner institutions in 66 countries on six continents. Which means that our level of internationalisation is among the highest in South Africa," De Villiers said.
“As an institution with a global outlook, rooted in Africa, we continuously ask ourselves not only what we're good at, but also what we are good for," he added. “That's why our vision is not only to be Africa's leading research-intensive university, but also to be a place where we advance knowledge in service of society.
“One of the university's core strategic themes is to conduct research for impact, and this is exemplified by this facility. The BMRI is unparalleled on the African continent in terms of its facilities and research capacity, but also for significant human development through training some of the best students from the continent and exposing them to extensive global research networks," De Villiers said. “The BMRI and the work that we're doing here is a practical demonstration of our aspiration to be a proud African knowledge hub, serving the continent through research innovation and education."
De Villiers's message of service on the continent was echoed by Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, FMHS Vice-Dean: Research and Internationalisation, who explained how the FMHS targets some of the greatest health issues facing the continent through its research. “We know that Africa bears the brunt of many diseases, and as one of the leading medicine and health sciences faculties on this continent we have a unique responsibility to contribute to addressing these problems," Gey van Pittius acknowledged. “We want to do that by bringing the brightest minds in science and technology together here at the faculty and providing them with cutting-edge technologies to help find solutions to some of Africa's most pressing health issues."
Gey van Pittius also highlighted the faculty's efforts to build capacity on the African continent. “We don't see our role as only servicing our own needs, we also do capacity building for the rest of the continent," he said. “We are continuously training students and colleagues from other African countries who then takes this knowledge and skills back to their own countries."
To illustrate the faculty's real-life impact, two prominent SU academics presented some of the work their teams' have accomplished. Prof Portia Jordan, who heads SU's Department of Nursing and Midwifery, made a case for the need to increase and empower the global nursing workforce, and illustrated how her department is heeding the call through several under- and postgraduate programmes. Prof Tulio de Oliveira, Director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), relayed how during the Covid-19 pandemic, his team worked tirelessly to track variants on the continent and were responsible for detecting both the Beta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-19. He maintained that their work in epidemic tracking on the content is ongoing and emphasised the importance of this work considering climate change and its link to human and animal health.
The talks were concluded with a word of thanks by Prof Karin Baatjes, FMHS Vice Dean: Learning and Teaching. “It is key to our university's mission to be connected to the world, while enriching and transforming local, continental and global communities," Baatjes said. “May we continue to build strong bonds in our international communities, and to that end, we express our gratitude to all representatives here today."
After the presentations, dignitaries were taken on a tour of the BMRI to experience the facility first-hand.
“Stellenbosch University is blessed with an abundance of world-class resources, creating a compelling case for members of the Consular Corps to forge cooperation agreements with the University," said Dr Prieur du Plessis, Deputy Dean of the Cape Town Consular Corps. “A University is measured by the excellence of its work. At the BMRI we have seen first-hand evidence of its outstanding work. I would encourage our members and the University to engage with each other to explore mutual opportunities – opportunities in the interest of advancement in South Africa, and to the benefit of our respective countries."
Consul General of Romania and Dean of the Consular Corps, Nicolae Andrei Zaharescu, thanked SU for networking with the diplomatic mission in Cape Town. “Supporting the education system in South Africa, through all diplomatic efforts, remains one of our main goals. In the words of Madiba: A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special," Zaharescu concluded.