Within the framework of comprehensive internationalisation, Stellenbosch University (SU) forms part of many international networks, partnerships and collaborations that not only promote internationalisation, but to support local relationships, social impact and community engagement too. One such network is the international Town and Gown Network, a group of twelve universities from across the globe, representing their universities and the towns within which they are located.
During 2020, the network moved online as a community of practice for lesson sharing and met twice, first in July 2020 to consider the enormous changes brought about by the coronavirus, and later, in November to then share some of the adaptive practices which were developed. The main objective of the network is to support one another by sharing strategies for universities to be more positive role-players in their local contexts. In the follow-up session hosted on 17 November, ten of the network partners presented their approaches to town-and-gown collaboration during COVID-19. These examples included: ways in which universities engaged in skills development initiatives to help those who were recently unemployed or furloughed during COVID, supporting public health priorities through practical means such as COVID testing stations and trialling higher ed apps, communication, support and engaging students during the crisis through peer mentorship and advances in COVID-related research for community benefit. Sharing these practical ways of using civic engagement to support students and other local stakeholders and approaches to local economic recovery sparked interest in further unpacking this theme at future meetings of the network.
The network was initiated by SU’s Rector Prof Wim de Villiers and Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy and Internationalisation Prof Hester Klopper at the inaugural town-and-gown conference in Stellenbosch at the end of 2018. Other members include Lund University (Sweden), Bath and Coventry universities (United Kingdom), Queen’s University, Northern Ireland, the University of St Andrews (Scotland), Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Germany), KU Leuven (Belgium), Penn State University (United States), Queen’s University, Canada, and Rhodes University (Eastern Cape, South Africa). Durham University (UK) also joined the Community of Practice at the last meeting. SU International has continued to serve as the network’s secretariat throughout the tumultuous time of COVID-19.
The partner universities are working together to share practice and to create a resource hub to help showcase members’ innovative approaches to play an ever more significant role in advancing their respective local communities.
By taking part in this network, SU combines its international reach with local impact for the benefit of the community of Stellenbosch and surrounds. We thank all the network members for their commitment to sharing and growing the network. Indeed, ‘town’ and ‘gown’ are collaborating more strongly thanks to the commitment of the partners and within the framework of SU’s internationalisation strategy.
Some of the members of the Town and Gown Network during the online conference in July 2020.
And below from the meeting held in November 2020.