How you can help unleash the new global university

23 June 2020 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

On Monday, 29 June, the University of Cape Town (UCT) will host the first of a series of virtual events: Unleashing the New Global University.

This time of extraordinary global crisis – combining the pandemic with protests about race and gender inequality – presents an opportunity to rethink how we can do things differently as a university. Not just within our current geographical space but around the world.

Universities around the world have had their international activities brought to a halt by COVID-19. International students have returned home, conferences have been cancelled or postponed, research that required travel has seen at least a pause, if not a complete rethink.

But this model of internationalisation was already failing because it reinforced inequality. Which groups of people are most able to travel around the world to attend academic conferences and meetings? Which kinds of students are able to take up the exciting and career-advancing opportunities of international experiences? It is surely those from wealthier backgrounds and institutions, mostly in the global north, mostly without primary childcare responsibilities.

The current model also has an impact on the planet. While most universities claim to value sustainability, few have translated that into action when it comes to travel.

These issues of inequality and sustainability are at the heart of UCT’s values and our proposed Vision 2030 for UCT. We are well placed to lead this conversation: while we are far more challenged by the requirements of internationalisation than our wealthier partners in the global north, we are better able to play in these international waters than most other institutions in the country and on the continent.

Truth is that we can’t solve the problems alone. We need to persuade our partners to see the challenges for what they are, to help us think through solutions, and to have the political will to change with us.

I urge you to join our challenging conversations; send in your questions before and during the events, drive the discussions we hope to generate on social media (#newglobaluni) and forward the invitation to your friends and collaborators on the continent and elsewhere in the world.

It is not easy to rethink a model that has become so entrenched, but if ever there was a moment to do so, it is now.

With kind regards,

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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