By Dr Samia Chasi (IEASA) and Dr James Otieno Jowi (ANIE)
African voices are often absent or underrepresented in the global discourse on higher education internationalisation. Recognising this challenge, IEASA and ANIE entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in August 2020 to jointly advance higher education internationalisation in Africa and to amplify African voices in the global higher educational landscape.
During the signing ceremony, it was noted that virtual and online activities, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, would facilitate increased engagements between the two organisations, their members and networks, and on 1 and 2 October 2020, IEASA and ANIE held their first joint virtual conference themed “Innovation and Resilience in Higher Education Internationalisation in an Era of COCIV-19 & Beyond”.
The two-day virtual conference brought together 387 registered participants from 37 countries, including representatives from 18 African countries, who made up the majority of delegates. Representation of several sister organisations, including the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA), European Association for International Education (EAIE), Eastern European University Association (EEUA), Brazilian Association for International Education (FAUBAI) and the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) as well as organisations such as the International Association of Universities (IAU), Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), Association of African Universities (AAU), Education Sub-Saharan Africa (ESSA) and Universities South Africa (USAf) allowed for the deliberations to not only be focussed on and in Africa but to be shared more widely with internationalisation networks around the world.
The conference offered an opportunity to reflect on the innovative and resilient ways in which universities have responded to COVID-19, sharing perspectives on what we have experienced so far and what we might anticipate beyond the pandemic. Speakers and panellists representing universities and organisations from across the continent explored the two main topics, innovation and resilience in higher education and higher education internationalisation, at the level of individuals, programmes and initiatives, organisations and countries. They touched on a variety of university activities including teaching and learning, postgraduate training, research and entrepreneurship initiatives as well as aspects of university management, administration and partnerships.
Overall, the conference reaffirmed the foundations and principles of internationalisation that have guided the activities of IEASA and ANIE and their members, especially the critical role of university partnerships and collaborations, mutuality and exchange, even in times of adversity such as during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It called for the strengthening of these key tenets of internationalisation and increased commitment to internationalisation by all stakeholders including governments, institutions and regional organisations. To enhance these engagements, African universities were urged to develop and implement strategies for internationalisation that were realistic, aligned to their circumstances and positioned in such a way that they allow institutions to reap the best possible benefits from their internationalisation efforts.
In her keynote address, Professor Thuli Madonsela, Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University’s Law Faculty and former Public Protector of South Africa, emphasised the role of internationalisation in promoting social justice, inclusivity and mutuality. She urged African universities to foster internationalisation driven by the African philosophy of Ubuntu and care for each other. Alluding to the proverb that “Necessity is the mother of invention”, Professor Madonsela further called on African universities to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic for positive transformations and enhancement of internationalisation.
Professor Pai Obanya of the University of Ibadan challenged African scholars to reconceptualise and redefine internationalisation with emphasis on reciprocity, mutuality and putting Africa at the centre, as the continent has in the past suffered from the imbalances of globalisation and internationalisation. His provocation resonates well with previous calls to rethink internationalisation, as driven by the IAU in 2012 or emerging from the first Global Dialogue on internationalisation hosted by IEASA in 2014, which resulted in the Nelson Mandela Global Dialogue Declaration on the Future of Internationalisation of Higher Education (2014).
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, several speakers emphasised the need to strengthen research and innovation in African universities and to build relevant infrastructures and support systems, especially for international students. This could help respond to the fragility of Africa’s higher education systems, which was highlighted in this time of crisis, as pointed out by Professor Nathan Ogechi of Moi University.
One of the key game changers foregrounded by COVID-19 is the need for massive investment in and deployment of information and communications technology (ICT) as a tool to support internationalisation and research as well as other educational activities of universities. Several experiences were shared from universities across the continent where significant investment and capacity building in ICT was already taking place, especially in providing alternative and blended learning approaches. According to Professor Rodny-Gumede of the University of Johannesburg, such transformation is an important avenue for innovations and Africa’s participation in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The need to focus on doctoral training and post-doctoral opportunities for the development of a new critical mass of African academics and experts was also emphasised. These could be supported through the establishment of an African post-COVID fund for research and innovation, as proposed by Professor Sayed of the University of Oxford and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The financial sustainability of African universities, especially in such crisis periods, was thus considered crucial. Though still in their formative stages, the African centres of excellence were considered as having a key role to play in advancing research and capacity building in targeted areas.
In closing, the joint IEASA-ANIE virtual conference has shown that COVID-19 has presented higher education institutions in Africa and around the globe with unprecedented challenges, severely disrupting many traditional internationalisation activities. At the same time, universities have acted with great adaptability, innovation and resilience and have highlighted the important role internationalisation, collaboration and partnerships play in times of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
As an African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” With the conference, the longstanding partnership between IEASA and ANIE has not only reached a new milestone, it has also illustrated that the two organisations are well equipped to foster intra-African collaboration and exchange and to work towards jointly representing African voices in higher education internationalisation on the global stage.
Further coverage of the IEASA-ANIE 2020 Conference:
Maina Waruru and Wachira Kigotho. (2020, October 8). Put the ‘universe’ back in university, counter ethnicity. University World News: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20201007141156615
Maina Waruru. (2020, October 8). Research networks challenged by COVID-19. University World News: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20201007111313193
IAU. (2020, October 23). https://www.iau-aiu.net/IEASA-and-ANIE-Conference-African-voices-in-the-global-international
The PIE News team (2020, October 28). Africa: IEASA & ANIE host virtual conference. The PIE News: https://thepienews.com/news/africa-iease-anie-host-joint-virtual-conference-2020/
EAIE Podcast (2020, November 25 ). Goski Alabi & Orla Quinlan: Africa’s internationalisation agendas. EAIE: https://www.eaie.org/blog/podcast-alabi-quinlan-africa-internationalisation-goals.html
 Available for download at https://ieasa.studysa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/nelson_declaration.pdf.