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Unisa extends international collaboration to Latin America

On 31 August 2023, Unisa hosted representatives of the Brazilian Association of Rectors of State and Municipal Universities (ABRUEM), and conducted robust discussions on possible collaboration to enhance student experience and student success at South African and Brazilian higher education institutions. The meeting was attended by, among others, executive deans and school directors of Unisa’s colleges, as well as vice-chancellors of Brazilian universities.

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Unisa and ABRUEM delegates met to discuss possible collaboration

Established in 1991, ABRUEM is a non-profit entity and one of the most important higher education organisations in Brazil and Latin America. The association aims to permanently deepen the discussion on themes relevant to the higher education agenda as it seeks to harmonise teaching, research, community service, internationalisation and innovation. Further, it serves society on various development areas, including communities that lack access to higher education.


BRICS partners building strong relations in the higher education sector

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Prof Puleng LenkaBula

In her remarks, Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof Puleng LenkaBula, acknowledged South Africa as the host of the 2023 Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Summit. She recalled that the summit provided an opportunity for these countries to imagine the future that must be strengthened within the global multilateral systems. 

Further reflecting on the historical relationship between South Africa and Brazil, the VC urged universities of the two countries to hold impactful discussions around how they rethink global relationships, knowledge systems and technology or infrastructure systems. 

As Unisa celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, LenkaBula explained that the theme for 2023 was "Reclaiming Africa’s intellectual futures", noting that the university identified strongly with the African continent renaissance as espoused by its Chancellor, Dr Thabo Mbeki. She noted that Mbeki worked hard to strengthen the continent to claim its space in the global arena, and ensured that South Africa became a BRICS partner. LenkaBula further assured that Unisa will continue to build strong relations and collaboration with Brazilian universities as part of South Africa’s contribution towards the BRICS people-to-people exchanges in enhancing mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation.

LenkaBula recalled that Unisa and the Institute of Global Dialogue (IGD) co-hosted the BRICS Political Parties Plus Dialogue and Outreach. She affirmed that Unisa would explore possible collaboration with Brazilian universities as part of contributing towards the BRICS Science Technology and Innovation (BRICS STI) initiatives, among others. She continued: "We plan to jointly promote digital transformation of education in South Africa and Brazil."

Focusing on Unisa’s ten catalytic niche areas, LenkaBula mentioned that relating to the catalytic niche areas of "Bosadi" (womanism) and feminist theories, the university acknowledged the critical role of women in economic development, and she commended the BRICS Women's Business Alliance.

LenkaBula maintained that the recently announced 2023 Times Higher Education, Webometrics and Shanghai ranking improvements for Unisa, can be further improved through effectual universities collaboration. Explaining how Unisa diminishes digital divide, LenkaBula remarked that the university functioned well during the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and that other universities looked up to Unisa’s teaching and learning methods during that time.


Benchmarking to improve social impact

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Prof Odilon Maximo de Morais

Prof Odilon Maximo de Morais, Rector of the State University of Alagoas and President of ABRUEM, congratulated Unisa on its rich history and for preserving teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Highlighting the significance of the relation between Brazil and South Africa, Maximo de Morais stated that it would help improve economic development and social justice for society. He further maintained that the collaboration would enable investment in strategic areas, as well as efficiency, solidary and knowledge sharing in the higher education space. 

Maximo de Morais shared insights into the Brazilian higher education landscape and on ABRUEM objectives in advancing academic progress and development. He added that Brazilian universities produce cutting-edge research in areas such as agriculture, health and food security. He continued: "We train teachers and education managers in all school subjects, and we also offer training programmes for indigenous teachers in indigenous communities." He asserted that they were interested in establishing projects that had direct social impact and enabled social engagement.

Speaking on cultural diversity, Maximo de Morais said it was important for programmes such as the humanities, social sciences and economics to merge in order to address economic inequality. He remarked: "We also have great interest in areas that focus on sustainability and preserving natural resources." Maximo de Morais said they hope the meeting will yield positive partnerships, opportunities and international cooperation, and will strengthen the universities. He concluded: "I invite each member of this proceeding to become acquainted with the best that each university has to offer."

During the discussions, Unisa’s executive deans and school directors shared their colleges’ profiles, achievements and strengths, as well as areas that needed improvement. They shared highlights such as the progress on digitisation, conducting teaching and learning online, even for the marginalised, and support for students with disabilities. They further shared areas of improvement such as getting more students to register for scarce skills courses, decreasing dropout rates, especially of first-year students, and enhancing robust engagement between students and staff. The academics also outlined the colleges’ possible partnerships with ABRUEM.

#Unisa150 

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2023/09/01

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