Attendees of the 13th Reinventing Higher Education (RHE) Conference explored the current status and future evolution of higher education and debated the management, governance and direction research and learning universities should take as global agents of innovation.
Hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) from 5 to 7 March at the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika, the conference gathered experts from several countries who also discussed topics such as the need for education systems to be responsive as well as catalysts for positive change in society. Launched in 2010 at IE University, RHE is a conference organised in collaboration with the IE Foundation. The theme for the 2023 conference was “New Humans, New Society, New Higher Education”.
Attendees were welcomed by UCT’s acting vice-chancellor, Professor Sue Harrison, who challenged education experts to break silos in order to effectively address global challenges. “There is an increasing awareness that much of the higher education sector remains siloed, and the grand challenges facing our world today cannot be addressed in a factional or fragmented way. So, our first challenge is to break down the walls between these silos while we maintain their strengths and depth and capability,” Professor Harrison said.
New humans, new society, new higher education
Delivering her keynote address, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, the co-president of The Club of Rome, and former vice-chancellor of UCT said, “Humanity is being called to go back to ask the fundamental questions of what it means to be human.” She pointed out that Africa, as the cradle of humanity, understood that we are interconnected and interdependent within the cycle of life.
She also posed the question, “What is the role and place of education in its original meaning?” Ramphele said that education was understood to be holistic learning and teaching integrated into every aspect of life and “channelled across generations to bring out the best in each person”.
She said that the current higher education system reflects the breaking up of our existence. “Higher education is in many ways disconnected from the everyday lives of the majority of people in our world.” She pointed out that there were initiatives under way to bridge these chasms.
“Higher education is in many ways disconnected from the everyday lives of the majority of people in our world.”
For these initiatives to succeed, there was a need to convene more conversations between and within institutions with a focus on asking uncomfortable questions about our shared vision of the world. It was also necessary to interrogate what learning is. The redesign of higher education environments is essential to promoting the goals that we set.
“The new human, the new society, the new higher education are audacious goals that are within reach if we liberate ourselves from the reluctance to face up to the gap between what we know and how we act in our personal, our professional and our political lives,” Ramphele said.
Sharing best practices
Also addressing the conference was president of IE University, Professor Santiago Íñiguez de Onzoño who said, “The purpose [of this conference] is not just to share ideas and best practices but to set up an agenda for action.”
Echoing his words, Ambassador of Spain in South Africa, His Excellency Raimundo Robredo Rubio, pointed out that the conference was part of the project of redefining the task of teaching the next generation. “We’re in a society that is on the brink of tremendous change,” he said, “and I doubt that our children are prepared for it.”
The session was followed by a conversation moderated by Ciku Kimeria, the editor of Quartz Africa. The conversation participants were Professor Íñiguez, Harrison, and Ramphele. The panellists drew attention to the dangers of complacency and the importance of diversity in responding to contemporary challenges. They also focused on the need for holistic education.
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