Stellenbosch University
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SU enhancing and expanding global footprint despite COVID-19
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 21/10/2021

​​​The theme “Augmented Internationalisation" was the order of the day at the 18th Stellenbosch International Academic Networks (SIAN) meeting that took place from 13 to 15 October 2021.

SIAN is the annual gathering of Stellenbosch University's (SU) international partner universities.

Addressing delegates at the opening of the virtual event, Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at SU, said the University is determined to expand towards augmented internationalisation, which has provided them with the opportunity to enhance and expand their global footprint.

“Augmented internationalisation has meant the development of programmes for our university students and staff and our partner institutions, which allowed them to experience the benefits of mobility both physically and virtually.

“At SU we implemented emergency remote teaching, learning and assessment (ERTLA). But since then, as we have come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, we have now moved to augmented remote teaching, learning and assessment (ARTLA). To make ARTLA possible, the University fast tracked the installation of advanced equipment in around 200 venues to enable lecturers to stream and record lectures as well as interact with students who are not physically present. This approach actually means that students in other countries could and can still attend lectures, thus furthering augmented internationalisation."

De Villiers says SU has seen continued year-on-year growth in their partnerships since 2018.

“We have established partnerships and agreements with more than 100 institutions around the world. Our partnerships in Africa, like the African Doctoral Academy​ and the SU Africa Platform, is of great importance to sustainable development on our continent.

“We've also launched a School for Climate Studies​ that will and can have a significant impact, particularly in South Africa and the rest of our continent, in terms of mitigating climate change. We are determined to expand our internationalisation efforts and to move towards augmented internalisation which provides us with the opportunity to enhance and expand our global footprint."

Global education opportunities and partnerships

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the global higher education sector, the University continued fostering partnerships and exploring various opportunities for collaboration on the African continent and the rest of the globe.

Prof Hester Klopper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy, Global and Corporate Affairs, shared some of the recent highlights of internationalisation at SU that took place during the pandemic.

One such was the inaugural Umoja Africa Student Leadership Summit, hosted by SU, which has become a champion for ethical leadership and good governance. Another highlight was the Tübingen Exchange Programme between Tübingen University in Germany and SU, which was transformed into a two-week virtual exchange programme in which 10 SU students participated. In March this year, 10 of SU's BCom international students participated in the University of Antwerp's Faculty of Business and Economics' online International Week of Sustainability.

“The aim was to expose students to international views and perspectives on corporate sustainability, social and environmental sustainability and to foster intercultural skills, she said.

Other initiatives included the Water Institute at SU, who collaborated with water researchers at TU Dresden in Germany to look at funding possibilities for a joint research programme. While partnership agreements with the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Humboldt in Berlin aim to enhance and strengthen research exchanges.​

“Over the past few years, our partnership development has been very strategic. One of these initiatives is where SU and Leiden University in the Netherlands discussed the different challenges that both are experiencing during COVID-19 and how student exchange opportunities could be expanded on in the future," she said.

Klopper said the University has also established partnerships across Africa, such as the Periperi U partnership of African Universities that aims to reduce disaster risks among African countries through improved national and local disaster risk management. Another notable partnership is the AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence, which provides the University with an opportunity to unlock bilateral cooperation across the continent. “We are looking forward to seeing how it will provide a world class science and innovation ecosystem in Africa," said Klopper.

Internal and external partnerships

Prof Kanshukan Rajaratnam, Director: School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, which was launched in 2019, shared some of the activities the School has been involved in during the pandemic.

The School, which has lived most of its life under lockdown, has successfully built augmented collaborative spaces within the University, as well as with external partners.

Internally, the School has also cemented various partnerships. This includes offering a data science module for the Faculty of AgriSciences in 2022; incorporating data science skills into the medical curriculum at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences; and collaborating with the Faculty of Engineering by offering Master's supervision. The school is also collaborating with the University of Stellenbosch Business School in developing a data science tool to measure the impact of policy on social justice.

Prof Rajaratnam said internationally they are exploring collaborations that range from data science to climate studies to bio-informatics to genomics surveillance.

“Our current collaborations adhere to our vision to be a world-class institution for data science and computational thinking. So, when we develop collaborations we want to collaborate globally."

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