International Exchanges under view

26 May 2002

My studies lie over the ocean: IAPO's Lesley Shackleton (left) and Caz Thomas shed some light on the issues that occasionally bedevil international student and staff exchanges.

THE EXCHANGE of students and staff across international borders came under the spotlight at last week's Vice-Chancellor's Open Planning Forum as Lesley Shackleton and Caz Thomas of the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) shared the joys and troubles associated with these increasingly popular agreements.

The duo indicated that UCT is regularly approached – via individuals, departments, faculties, and the executive – to sign such agreements with other universities. A key component of such agreements is the exchange of staff and/or students.

IAPO estimates that there are about 45 such agreements existing between UCT and other institutions. In 2001, UCT hosted 19 students from other countries, while IAPO sent eight undergraduates and three postgraduates to partner universities in Europe and North America.

At the forum last week, Shackleton and Thomas, respectively Director and Deputy Director of IAPO, focused on some of the difficulties in drawing up and implementing such bureaucratic-intensive agreements.

Among the problems that commonly crop up are the paucity of subsistence funding for students/staff, a poor exchange rate and difficulties in finding students interested in spending time away, especially in non-English speaking environments. One of the questions Shackleton posed to the gathering was whether UCT wished to pursue such exchanges and, if yes, what would have to be done to improve the – currently sluggish – participation of faculties and departments. Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wieland Gevers, reiterated UCT's commitment to internationalisation, but raised concerns around some such agreements. "I've always wondered what, at the end of the day, does the balance sheet look like?" he asked.

"These agreements can be very time-consuming," added Shackleton, noting that there are plenty of opportunities for both staff and students to work and/or study overseas. "UCT is committed to providing international experience to our staff and students, but these experiences should be integrated into the strategic priorities of faculties. Faculties need to take ownership of exchanges."

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