Thursday, 01 October 2020 08:17

 

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The United States Embassy, University of Pretoria (UP) and Rutgers University-Newark have officially launched a $500 000 (R8.3 million) grant to further strengthen and support the United States-South Africa Higher Education Network (US-SA HEN).

The US-SA HEN is a consortium of higher education institutions in the United States and South Africa founded in 2018 with funding from South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training to promote exchanges, collaborative research and other partnerships.

The current managing partners of the US-SA HEN include the University of Pretoria (UP), Rutgers University-Newark and the University of Venda (Univen).

Through the University Capacity Development Programme, the Department of Higher Education and Training aims to support student and staff development by way of exchange programmes, with a strong focus on growing the doctoral candidate pool in South Africa.

The two-year grant will focus on four priority areas including:

  • Promoting US-SA faculty and student exchanges;
  • Facilitating joint research, especially in agriculture and food security, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM);
  • Providing training and skills transfer in all aspects of university administration through subject-matter exchange programmes; and
  • Exploring public-private partnerships, with an emphasis on commercialisation, technology transfer, and job creation.

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe welcomed the news of being awarded the University Partnerships Initiative grant and thanked the United States Embassy for its generosity.

Speaking during the virtual launch of the grant on Tuesday, Kupe said the University of Pretoria values partnerships with institutions nationally, continentally and globally.

He said the launch is a springboard for demonstrating the impact of partnerships for change.

“As much as there is a focus on increasing the quality and number of well-rounded doctoral candidates, there is also a parallel focus on adapting traditional educational approaches and developing lasting solutions to some of the challenges that afflict our global society, COVID-19 is an example, all of which can be leveraged through mutually beneficial collaborations and partnerships,” Kupe said.

Through this new grant, Kupe said the US-SA HEN will engage other institutions of higher education in order to increase the number of staff and student exchanges between the United States and South Africa.

“It will also implement new collaborative research agendas and enable the network to continue to leverage partnerships with public, private and non-profit sector institutions in both countries,” Kupe said.

US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, said the United States and South Africa share a long and proud history of academic collaboration and exchanges.

“Every year the US Embassy funds programmes for more than 150 South African students, faculty and professionals to travel to the United States to increase understanding between our two nations.

“With this award to support the US-SA HEN, we reaffirm our commitment to further increase bilateral cooperation and faculty mobility between the US and South Africa,” Nagy said.

Echoing Nagy’s sentiments, Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Professor Nancy Cantor said the global challenges over the past several months with the COVID-19 pandemic have reconfirmed that now, more than ever, it is essential for higher education institutions, including those engaged in the US-SA HEN, to reassess their roles within their communities and find creative solutions to the evolving dilemmas they face.

“Our communities are experiencing challenges, as pre-existing social inequalities are exacerbated by the current pandemic. As higher education institutions reassess how to best work with their community partners, I see a clear answer, which lies within the initiative we are celebrating here today: collaboration.”

Higher Education and Training Deputy Director-General, Dr Diane Parker, said the grant will assist to strengthen the US-SA HEN, and contribute significantly to the achievement of its objectives.

“We look forward to wide participation of universities in the activities that the grant will support, in ways that contribute to dismantling historical divides between the historically advantaged and the historically disadvantaged,” Parker said.

Also extending his gratitude, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic at Univen, Professor Jan Crafford, said the grant has demonstrated the genuine interest of the US Government in their bilateral partnership, as “we continue to build capacity for our people and increase cultural exchange and research”.

“The University of Venda is committed to the principle of mutual reciprocity in partnerships, and together with other partners, would see the actualisation of the objectives of the project,” Crafford said.