New network to focus on supporting higher education reform

Meneesha Govender, Just Meneesha, education, higher education, University world News, network

The South African Technology Network (SATN) and its local and international partners have been successful in applying to the European Commission to establish a South African chapter of the network for Higher Education Reform Experts (HEREs) – the first of its kind in Africa.

Of the 1,005 eligible applications for the establishment of such a network received by the European Commission’s Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, the South African application ranked in the top 13.3% of projects reviewed.

The HEREs is a network of individual experts who promote the modernisation of higher education and participate in the development of policies and reforms in their countries, while contributing to the training of local stakeholders.

According to a SATN statement, the initiative responds to South Africa’s policy on the internationalisation of higher education as well as the SATN’s strategic objectives for 2020-2025. The ultimate goal of establishing a South African chapter of HEREs, called HERESA, is to drive and inform reform within the higher education sector.

HERESA project manager, Dr Sershan Naidoo, said: “HEREs, which originated in Europe, was designed to enable the European higher education sector to reform itself. “The European Union (EU) created member states and affiliated states, and South Africa is a member by affiliation and can therefore apply to create a HEREs in South Africa with funding from the EU.”

More African networks

Naidoo said that, since no HEREs had been established in Africa yet, it made sense for SATN to seek to create a South African chapter “given that the country plays such a big role in higher education on the continent”. Furthermore, he said, the EU expressed the belief that once this chapter was created, it could trigger the creation of many others in Africa.

SATN CEO and the project leader for HERESA, Dr Anshu Padayachee, said: “HERESA is not just about capacity building. We’re going to be looking at current and relevant issues that affect higher education right now. Our aim is to build capacity to actively deal with these issues, COVID-19 being a perfect example.

The pandemic has thrown out a number of challenges in the higher education space. Among the most pressing issues is that most students and lecturers are not comfortable with online teaching and learning. Some universities have fared better than others. Furthermore, unemployment in South Africa remains high and this is a concern for graduating students.

“We want to ensure that higher education in South Africa is reforming itself, that students are ready to enter professions once they have completed their studies,” said Padayachee. “And, to achieve this, online learning has to be mainstreamed for the future.”

Leadership management

With this in mind, HERESA will focus on leadership management and how leaders can influence change in the teaching space, she said.

SATN operates from the tenet that higher education is one of the most important pillars in a successful nation. Padayachee believes “there is no better time than now to establish HERESA to deal with challenges the country is currently facing”.

An Erasmus+: Higher Education – International Capacity Building grant of €754,834 (US$890,000) will be made available to establish HERESA. “This funding has been made available to establish a platform for HERESA, which will be affiliated to HEREs all over the world,” said Naidoo.

In addition to SATN, South African institutions involved in establishing HERESA include the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Central University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Venda and the Council for Higher Education (CHE). International institutions include OBREAL GlobalObs in Spain, Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland, Politecnico di Torino in Italy, UBFC (University Burgundy Franche-Comté) in France and Tampere University in Finland.

The SATN, CHE and OBREAL GlobalObs will ensure that the South African and international institutions that contributed to the preparation of the application will receive funding through the grant to participate in local and international capacity-building activities planned as part of the project.

The South African partner institutions will form the core project consortium and will also be engaged in a project management team that will be responsible for implementation and decision making, while SATN and OBREAL GlobalObs will support the partners with the grant administration, reporting, and positioning towards the European Union.

Research and innovation

In addition to capacity building, innovation and research will be an important aspect of the project. So, too, will collaboration and partnerships with the other countries (Spain, Ireland, Italy, France and Finland) involved in the project. It is also an opportunity for mentorship.

The SATN is already facilitating projects that some of the European countries are involved with. One is the space science project that CPUT and Cork University are collaborating on. Other projects include water energy and the circular economy.

Padayachee said: “The idea is not merely to change what we teach and how we learn. We also want to provide students with the means to become job creators and innovators. We want South Africa to be able to export knowledge rather than import it.”

This kind of reform has been identified as a priority in South Africa and it is already taking place. Naidoo said HERESA is an “effort to co-ordinate and make that reform cohesive in nature. It will help to change the pace of reform and is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field in South Africa.”

Padayachee said for comprehensive and successful higher education reform to take place, policy change must also happen. “The CHE, as an adviser to the Education Department in South Africa, is an important policy partner in this project,” she said.

Stressing the fact that the project is not led by government or universities, Naidoo said the priority will be education best practice because the project consists of a self-led group of higher education specialists.

*This article first appeared in University World News.

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About Meneesha

Online and books editor by day, mum even while I sleep, individual all the time. I live in the beautiful city of Durban - the unpolished gem in South Africa. If I didn't have a family, I'd be that crazy cat lady your mum probably warned you not to feed! Blogging is where I share, vent, rant, laugh and generally be myself. Join the ride!

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