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South Africa pushes for internationalisation of HE

The South African government has proposed an internationalisation strategy to strengthen economic and political relations with other countries, saying that although internationalisation exists at individual institutions it remains “uncoordinated, piecemeal and ad hoc” at the national level.

In 2010, 70% of international students in South Africa came from the Southern African Development Community

Giving the keynote address at the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) conference last month, chief director of university education policy in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Mahlubi Mabizela, said the department “will work towards facilitating stronger linkages between foreign universities and historically black universities”.

“We want to ensure that it is not only well-resourced institutions that are able to benefit from the many opportunities that higher education internationalisation offers,” he added.

At the heart of the framework is improving the Southern African Development Community

DHET published a Green Paper earlier this year outlining its proposed framework which placed at the heart of its efforts improving the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Plans include entrance requirement standardisation, credit transfer mechanisms and encouraging consistence in academic years to facilitate staff mobility and exchange programmes between the countries.

Formed in 1979, the SADC has grown to include 15 member states in addition to South Africa including Angola, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique. In 2010, 70% of  the 66,000 international students in South Africa came from the SADC.

The remaining students came from other African countries (11,130), Europe (1,813), Asia  (1,813) and North America (1,737).

DHET is quick to mention that focus on the continent will not come at the expense of forging alliances with the global North or developing countries such as the BRICS group of which South Africa is a member.

For example, South Africa is working with the European Union to roll out the Erasmus Mundus scholarship programme for local students, with a second cohort of masters and doctoral students selected this year.

Under the programme, the government aims to boost collaboration between South African universities as bidding consortia must include at least two historically disadvantaged universities. “In this manner, we seek to instil a culture of sharing of responsibility, skills and knowledge transfer between our different sets of institutions,” Mabizela said.

The government hopes that in the long-term, internationalisation of the HE sector will become economically beneficial

Unlike its fellow English speaking competitors, international education can be a cost to the South African government due to the SADC Protocol on Education and Training. This requires all member countries in the Southern Africa region to charge member country students the same tuition and residence fees of local students.

But the government hopes that in the long-term, internationalisation of the higher education sector will become economically beneficial. “This would entail attempting to attract foreign students to study in South Africa in the same way that universities in countries such as the USA, UK and Australia do, where higher education is a large earner of foreign revenues,” said the Green Paper.

“Part of the revenue generated from foreign fee-paying students could perhaps be directed into assisting needy students in South Africa or neighbouring countries,” it proposed.

The public had until 30 April to respond to the Green Paper. Once public views have been received and assessed, DHET said it will present a White Paper and make whatever legislative, regulatory and organisational changes are necessary to ensure that its policy is in line with its vision.

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