UU joins Knowledge Mission to South Africa

From October 15 to October 18, Rector Magnificus Henk Kummeling joined Robbert Dijkgraaf, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, on a Knowledge Mission in South Africa, together with leaders of several Dutch educational institutions. The purpose of the Knowledge Mission was to develop and strengthen equal collaborations in the field of education and research between the Netherlands and South Africa. 

International cooperation is crucial for the quality and exchange of knowledge. Cooperation in education and research between our continents is important to address global challenges such as energy transition and food security.

This aligns with Utrecht University's ambitions to engage beyond Western Europe. In joining this mission, Utrecht University was able to demonstrate their commitment and efforts in collaborating with South Africa, and visit different educational institutions to further strengthen our existing collaborations and develop new ones, for instance the University of Pretoria. More about the current affairs and project in regards to the Dutch and South African research can be found here.

Global impact

Compared to other Dutch universities, Utrecht University stands out for its many close links with South Africa, in the area of research as well as, increasingly, in the area of education. One example is the establishment of an Africa Hub in Pretoria as part of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) founded by Johan Schot, Professor of Global History and Sustainability Transitions at the Centre for Global Challenges. The Africa Hub fosters research collaboration, policy impact and investment opportunities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals across Africa. Another example is the strategic partnership between the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and the Nelson Mandela University, which recently opened the Mandela Institute for Sustainable Futures with collaborations across the wider Africa region.

At a wider level within Europe, collaboration with South Africa is happening in the context of the European Universities Initiative CHARM-EU that Utrecht University co-founded. During the opening session of the Knowledge Mission, Marjanneke Vijge presented CHARM-EU’s current collaboration with South Africa. She is one of the Academic Directors of CHARM-EU, which established the joint European Master's degree ‘Global Challenges for Sustainability’ that is simultaneously run by five universities in Europe. CHARM-EU also aims to expand to non-EU countries such as South Africa to foster intercultural learning and exchange outside Europe. Students, staff and societal partners worldwide can join in the teaching and learning because of the different forms of hybrid education used in the Master’s and in specific CHARM-EU modules.

Strategic partnership

Robbert Dijkgraaf and Henk Kummeling during a Q&A at the University of Western Cape, South Africa
Robert Dijkgraaf and Henk Kummeling during a Q&A at the University of Western Cape, South Africa

In addition to these concrete examples of collaboration, Utrecht University also has a strategic partnership with the University of Western Cape (UWC). Utrecht University and UWC have a history of collaboration dating back to the 1980s. Within the framework of the current UU-UWC partnership, as renewed in 2019, there is focus on three components. The first one is the exchange of staff and students. For instance, Henk Kummeling has been Extraordinary Professor of Law at UWC since 2012. There are also other research and teaching projects (digital & distant learning and explorations into stimulating international classroom environments). Lastly, there is a UU-UWC Joint Doctorate Agreement, which allows for PhD candidates to complete a joint degree. 

During the Knowledge Mission, there was also a visit to UWC. Dijkgraaf gave a speech about the cooperation between the Netherlands and South Africa, underlining the importance of global and equitable cooperation. Afterwards, Kummeling joined in for a Q&A (questions and answers) and also spoke about the strategic partnership between both universities. The Knowledge Mission came to an end with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the South African minister for Higher Education and Training, minister Nzimande, and minister Dijkgraaf on further cooperation in education. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima attended the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding as well. The minister reflected on the Knowledge Mission on his Instagram profile.