Prof Thandabantu Nhlapo: "Many South African universities are seeking, quite understandably, to define a continental role for themselves. My task is to persuade us at UCT to be comfortable with our chosen approach.
As recently announced by vice-chancellor Dr Max Price, Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo will assume responsibility for internationalisation, thus reuniting this objective with Afropolitanism, which is a strategic aspect of the broader initiative. In this article Nhlapo looks at the synergy between these two strategic areas, as well as the links between Afropolitanism and the areas of transformation, research, teaching and learning, and social responsiveness.
Afropolitanism and its link with internationalisation
From the outset it is clear that the Afropolitan vision is a significant companent of the internationalisation endeavour at UCT. Both visions share the same interest in transformation through their potential for creating the diversity that is needed to change the institutional climate at UCT and for addressing issues of redress through increasing opportunities for the mobility of South African students. There is even some evidence that Semester Study Abroad students (mostly from the developed North) have assisted in keeping a number of academic programmes at UCT viable that might have been discontinued due to poor student numbers. Significantly, these are courses that have the potential to strengthen UCT's Afropolitan reputation as an African and Africa-facing institution.
There are thus at least three levels at which the Afropolitan vision and the international vision intersect. First, to the extent that they both seek to insert UCT into networks outside South Africa's borders, they have the same 'customer' base. Second, internally they seek to achieve the same ends: demographic transformation, diversity, curriculum development and an improved institutional climate.
At a third level, Afropolitanism and internationalisation are shown to have an active, complementary relationship that goes beyond mere overlap. This is where, in fulfilling its own mandate, internationalisation also promotes the ends of Afropolitanism in these ways:
By forging strategic alliances and partnerships, both in Africa and globally, the internationalisation project raises UCT's profile and connectedness. These are essential prerequisites for a future role as a hub of international and African scholarship.
Where these alliances are in the global South, they consolidate UCT's position in the club of nations facing similar challenges, such as India, Brazil, China and Mexico, and a host of countries on the African continent.
In line with emerging global trends in donor funding, UCT's positioning as a portal between the global North and the global South will attract funding for research, student and staff exchanges, and regional and continental capacity-building initiatives. It is a position in which UCT can be the pivot in beneficial multi-cornered partnerships involving North-South-South permutations.
Internationalisation-at-home also articulates well with the Afropolitan mandate in its ability to foster diversity in the student body and to influence curriculum change towards topics of special relevance to Africa.
Exposing UCT students and staff to African contacts and contexts through exchanges and joint postgraduate supervision supports the Afropolitan mandate centrally. There is already evidence in models such as USHEPiA that such contacts are invaluable in changing perceptions of the continent.
Afropolitanism and its link with transformation
The Afropolitan vision has a clear link with transformation, not only in its shared interest in enhancing diversity and improving the institutional climate, but in the transformative value of the vision itself. Done correctly, the Afropolitan thrust will alter mindsets around perceptions of Africa among UCT staff and students, with positive effects on a range of other activities: curriculum development, research collaborations, staff and student recruitment.
Afropolitanism and its link with research
Afropolitanism directs the research energies of UCT academics at staff and graduate level. Many of the networks into which UCT will insert itself will be based on research collaborations of different kinds, whether they are in the developed North, Africa itself, or the global South generally. What will give these partnerships a common energy and a shared interest is the idea of UCT as a vibrant centre of knowledge-production on African issues, with African and global partners, to the highest international standards.
Afropolitanism and its link with teaching and learning
Research with an Afropolitan slant should lead to an Africa-rich curriculum across the board. We are exploring the viability of other Afropolitan initiatives such as courses in the major African and Africa-relevant European and Asian languages. As the implementation of the vision unfolds, the impact of Afropolitanism will be felt in the classroom in other ways, such as the high visibility in the lecture room of African visiting scholars, postdoctoral researchers and eminent Africanists from all over the world.
Afropolitanism and its link with social responsiveness
The link between Afropolitanism and social responsiveness is obvious. Charity begins at home. Whenever our social response to the lives of members of our immediate communities is effective and relevant, it will be discharging the Afropolitan mandate.
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