The principles and guidelines outlined in the document will help higher education institutions to “develop and align their institutional internationalisation policies and strategies” and it sets out to provide legitimacy for activities related to internationalisation of higher education.
The document also aims to enhance the reputation, quality and relevance of higher education in South Africa, better equip students and staff with the “knowledge, skills and attitudes” – including intercultural skills – and attract talented and highly qualified people to the country.
“The insistence that universities have policies and strategies on internationalisation is welcomed”
It also details guidance on joint qualifications and “internationalisation at home”.
Another aim of the guidance is to “develop strategic alliances aimed at enhanced bilateral, multilateral and regional cooperation in higher education”.
Launched on November 6, the framework has been hailed as “big news” for the South African sector, with chief director of Higher Education Policy Development and Research at the DHET Mahlubi Mabizela saying institutions across the country are “extremely ecstatic” with the policy.
“The reason for their enthusiasm is because they have been having collaborative agreements and conducting joint qualifications without a national policy guidance,” Mabizela told The PIE News.
The document’s “fundamental issue” was to understand why the country should internationalise its higher education, Mabizela continued.
“That the main cause is to cross-pollinate knowledge; to grow our higher education system by learning from others; to share and to learn through joint research and qualifications; and not to be driven by commercial intentions,” he said.
“The document meets these through the guidance it provides institutions and the flexibility it allows for institutions to be creative in their engagements with their international counterparts.”
President at the International Education Association of South Africa (2019-2020) and director of internationalisation at Rhodes University Orla Quinlan agreed, explaining that the association is “delighted to now have a policy framework for internationalisation in higher education in South Africa”.
“Universities have been forging ahead with internationalisation, despite the absence of national level guidance, since the onset of democracy in 1994,” she said.
“The origins of IEASA are partly a response to these circumstances. We are pleased that the policy framework now gives due recognition to IEASA as a non-statutory body that has been advancing the internationalisation of higher education.
“The insistence that universities have policies and strategies on internationalisation is welcomed by all those who see the benefits of internationalisation for South Africa. The policy framework, however, remains broad enough to allow universities to develop their own institutional polices, strategies and to set up their own monitoring and reporting systems against the goals they set themselves.”
Within the framework, an Afro-centric preferential approach to the SADC region students and staff is “evident”, Quinlan noted.
Students from the SADC region will pay the same tuition fees as South African citizens and the document includes a specification that staff from the SADC region should be prioritised in the granting of visas before other regions and continents, she highlighted.
“While there is also a suggestion that South African institutions should prioritise relationships with institutions in the South, there is nevertheless sufficient scope in the policy for universities to exercise their institutional autonomy and choose their own partners,” Quinlan said.
The framework also offers guidance on collaborative degrees, although “the prohibition of double degrees may interfere with some international opportunities” for some institutions, she suggested.
Joint qualifications that are recognised in the policy include “co-badged”, “joint” and “consecutive” qualifications.
The delay between the consultation process and the final release may mean some current concepts and developments – such as Collaborative Online International Programs – are not specifically mentioned, but “the document speaks to all the necessary components to guide this in the ‘internationalisation of the curriculum’ and ‘online learning’ sections”.
“The policy is also the fundamental rethink and reimagining of internationalisation that will be required going forward as we learn to live with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the higher education sector,” Quinlan added.
Practical elements of the policy include templates for contractual agreements between institutions, Mabizela noted.
“It is transformative because it recommends local institutions to pair up, between historically advantaged and disadvantaged, when they contemplate new partnerships.
“Institutions, especially those that do not have internationalisation policies, should now be able to develop their own policies”
“It is meant to be developmental to our higher education system and this objective will hopefully be attained through implementation strategy and plan that is to be developed following the publication of the policy,” Mabizela added.
The finalisation of the policy is “an encouraging milestone for the sector and its international partners”, said Meekness Lunga, Higher Education and Science Programmes Manager at the British Council South Africa.
“The British Council has been working collaboratively with DHET on a number of ambitious programs that aim to build high level capacity in the post-school sector,” Lunga noted.
“We are looking forward to drawing on the policy to strengthen existing partnerships and explore other future possibilities. I am convinced that the new policy is fit for purpose and flexible enough to allow for institutional innovation.”
In October, the country announced its borders would re-open, which Quinlan said would delight those “committed to internationalisation” in the country.