SH: I’m originally from Bosnia where I lived during and after the war, until 2002. I was very lucky that a few years after the war I had the opportunity to do leadership training for an NGO, then after that I was offered a scholarship to study anywhere in the world, paid for by the Whalen Family Foundation from Oakland, California. I went to St John’s University in Minnesota and actually I couldn’t speak English at the time so I spent a few months learning English before going to university.
My first year was a nightmare as you can imagine. I majored in History and Business Management and I was interested in African history and colonial history, so when I had the chance to study abroad for a semester I went to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africa. After graduating from Minnesota I returned to NMMU to do a Masters in Conflict Management and then a PhD in Development Studies, focusing on post-war and post-conflict reconstruction and development.
“My experience of war in Bosnia made me want to understand why things happen and how we can stop conflict”
My experience of war in Bosnia made me want to understand why things happen and how we can stop conflict. I came to South Africa because of the history and the way the country was able to negotiate the end of apartheid, happening at the same time when the conflict started in Bosnia, where our politicians completely messed up. Being from Bosnia I know that ending a conflict is just the beginning of a long process of recovery and that became the main focus in my PhD research.
The PIE: What makes NMMU so special?
SH: The history of NMMU goes back to the 1960s. It used to be the University of Port Elizabeth and a number of other institutions, which merged in 2005 to form NMMU. We have around 26,000 students and there are close to 2,000 international students from all over the world.
“During apartheid the University of Port Elizabeth used to be a white-only university and today it’s a very diverse institution where all groups in South Africa and also international students come together”
What is fascinating is that during apartheid the University of Port Elizabeth used to be a white-only university and today it’s a very diverse institution where all groups in South Africa and also our international students come together. There’s still a lot of work to be done but I think it’s going in the right direction.
How did you end up specialising in internationalisation of higher education in post-conflict areas?
SH: I’ve helped design and teach programmes for ex-militants in South Sudan and I’ve done a lot of research and teaching in conflict analysis and post-war reconstruction and development as well. Then I was offered a job at NMMU doing research focusing on internationalisation of higher education and internationalisation at home.
“I started thinking about how to make links and I realised that hardly anybody is focusing on higher education in post-conflict settings”
Coming from an academic background that has to do with post-conflict recovery, I started thinking about how to make links and I realised that hardly anybody is focusing on higher education in post-conflict settings. There are projects and people talk about it but no one looks at what the long-term impact on these countries is.
The PIE: Tell me more about your work with ex-militants in South Sudan.