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Unisa delegation shines on the world stage at the GSDC 2024

Following the success of Unisa’s co-hosting of the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Forum: Quality Education last year, the institution was approached to be regional co-host for Africa at the Global Sustainable Development Congress (GSDC) 2024 in Thailand. Unisa teamed up with THE and the Thai Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation to present a highly successful event from 10 to 13 June in Bangkok, Thailand. Unisa’s exhibition stand enjoyed brisk traffic, and its 21-strong delegation pulled out all the stops to solidify the university’s position as one of the foremost sustainability champions in the global higher education sphere.


Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and Katre Olmez, Chief Operating Officer, Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens

Key reflections of sustainable futures through education

Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof Puleng LenkaBula, served on a panel during the Leadership Forum themed "Leadership Reflections: Building Sustainable Futures through Education", which was a special invitation-only session limited to 200 leaders from industry, government and universities.

During the session, the VC delivered compelling commentary on sustainability in education and Unisa’s leadership reflections on sustainable futures through education. She argued against the separation of student aspirations for economic upliftment through education and the need for students to respond to the call for a sustainable future. From the perspective of Africa, she elaborated on why the two should not be seen as opposing views, as students often come from diverse backgrounds. In the context of Unisa, said the VC, students would be engaging their studies not as empty vessels but with the experience of crime, violence, hunger and many other societal challenges. Therefore, students need not be convinced to participate in a sustainable future.


Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (second from left), engaging in a high-level panel discussion on "Leadership Reflections: Building Sustainable Futures through Education", with fellow-panellists (from left) John Gill, Moderator, Alan Chan, Provost and J.S. Lee Professor of Chinese Culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor and Professor at the University of Auckland, and Katre Olmez, Chief Operating Officer: Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens

Bringing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into play

Given Unisa’s outstanding performance with regard to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, Quality Education, SDG 5, Gender Equality, and SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities, the university was invited to present a panel discussion on one of the core themes of GSDC 2024, namely education, gender and reducing inequality, titled "Giga-scaling impact: Education, gender and reduced inequality".

Moderated by Letlhogonolo Marumolwa, Director of Business Intelligence at Unisa, the panel comprised Dr Genevieve James, Deputy Director Community Engagement and Outreach, Dr Thelma Louw, Director: Sustainability, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Herman Visser, Senior Specialist: Department of Institutional Intelligence. Commenting on the presentations and deliberations during this session, THE organisers indicated that this session was the best among all those presented.


Unisa panel discussing "Giga-scaling impact: Education, gender and reduced inequality": Dr Genevieve James (standing), Herman Visser (seated on the right) and Dr Thelma Louw (seated on the left). The insightful discussions on the topic were moderated by Lethlohonolo Marumolwa (seated on the far left). 

In another session, Louw presented a thought-provoking keynote address titled "Embracing the digital revolution to boost sustainable development". Addressing the question of sustainability, Louw said that it is essential to learn to live within the limits of one single planet in a fair and dignified manner for all, without exploiting – until depletion – the natural systems we draw resources from and without exceeding their ability to absorb the waste generated by our activities.


Dr Thelma Louw presenting a thought-provoking address on "Embracing the digital revolution to boost sustainable development"

She said the SDGs aim to transform our world. They are a call to action to end poverty and inequality, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy health, justice and prosperity. She highlighted the importance of the responsibility of the education sector and the contribution of the digital revolution to the SDGs. In her conclusion, she said that a digital revolution that embraces sustainable development creates an environment that supports innovative thinking and sound business practice.

Unisa’s strategic focus aligned with SDGs

Speaking on the highlights of the conference, Prof Solomon Magano, Unisa’s Acting Vice-Principal: Institutional Development, said that the conference addressed six societal transformations that must be implemented to attain the SDGs. According to Magano, the six societal transformations are a digital revolution for sustainable development, education, gender and inequality, energy, decarbonisation and sustainable industry, health, well-being and demography, sustainable cities and communities, and sustainable food, land, water and oceans. Magano also said that it was gratifying to note that most sessions he attended since the onset of the conference, reaffirmed the alignment of Unisa’s strategic focus as being congruent with the United Nation’s aspirations as expressed in the SDGs.


Prof Solomon Magano, Unisa’s Acting Vice-Principal: Institutional Development, attending one of the sessions

Promoting Brand Unisa

Because of its visibility and strategic position in the exhibition hall, Unisa’s exhibition stand received a great deal of attention from conference delegates and partners, further achieving the goal of promoting the institutional brand. 

Visitors expressed their appreciation of the comprehensive open, distance and eLearning (CODeL) mode of delivery, and delegates were pleasantly surprised to learn that they could also study with Unisa. There were considerable enquiries regarding academic offerings in science and engineering, agriculture and psychology. The majority of delegates who enquired indicated that they were willing to collaborate on research with Unisa.

"There's a unity I saw when we were at the exhibition stand," said Nolwazi Mwabi, Director: Communication, Marketing and Events at Unisa’s Department of Institutional Advancement. "We almost underestimated the demand for engagement with visitors. On several occasions, each of the 'corners', including the central area with seating, was occupied with #teamunisa responding to questions from visitors. It was a beautiful sight and I thank the team for their support."

Outstanding team work

Commending the Unisa delegation, the VC said that she values their diverse leadership, intellectual resources and hard work. "It is only when we work collectively that we can improve the strong, resourceful, engaged institutions, and especially universities in our country, continent, and the world," she concluded.

There can be no doubt that the delegation succeeded beyond expectations in their mission to further improve and position the university as a global player and leader in the higher education space.

Read also:

Unisa co-hosts 2024 Global Sustainable Development Congress in Thailand

Prof LenkaBula unapologetic about leading and shaping Africa's sustainable futures

Unisa delegation warmly welcomed by the South African Ambassador to Thailand

* Compiled by Edgar Rathelele, Senior Media Officer, Department of Institutional Advancement, based on contributions by members of the Unisa delegation

** Photos: Global Sustainable Development Congress (GSDC) 2024 website

Publish date: 2024/06/28

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