Universities should promote MDGs, ACU delegates told

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in danger of not being met by 2015, but universities can help to prevent this outcome.

This was the message of several speakers at the Conference of Executive Heads of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which kicked off in Cape Town on Sunday (25 April). The Universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology are the co-hosts.

In 2000, world leaders agreed on eight goals to be met within 15 years:

  1. Eradication of endemic poverty and hunger;
  2. Achieving universal primary education;
  3. Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women;
  4. Reducing child mortality;
  5. Improving maternal health;
  6. Combating HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases;
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability; and
  8. Establishing a global partnership for development.

On Sunday, Ms Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, a former public service minister in South Africa, who is now a top official with the UNDP in New York, said “there is a good chance that not all countries will meet the MDGs by 2015, though our official view is that they will be achieved overall.”

Especially those goals related to poverty, hunger and gender discrimination are in danger of not being met. And various inequalities are being masked by the fact that national averages are being used to measure progress.

“The ‘club’ [of rich countries and influential financial institutions] will find ways of not meeting their commitments,” Fraser-Moleketi warned.

Prof David Hulme of the University of Manchester described the MDGs as “either the world’s biggest promise or the world’s biggest lie”.

“The MDGs are a compact between rich countries and the developing world. Both made certain commitments. The developed world would supply funds and technology, and limit the damage they do to the environment. Poor countries would practice good governance and allocate more public funds to education, health and pro-poor policies. Unfortunately, the level of action on both sides has been extremely limited.”

A summit of UN member states to review progress with the MDGs will take place in New York in September. Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education and training, said the government has been lobbied to try and ensure that the role of universities gets recognition at this event. The MDGs make no mention of higher education – only primary education.

Mr Kamalesh Sharma, secretary general of the Commonwealth, said in a speech that was read on his behalf “higher education leads countries to higher things”. Flight delays due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland had prevented him from attending the conference.

Mr James Ransom of the organising committee said the conference has luckily not been badly affected by travel problems because most participants managed to get flights.

“Universities have the brain power, the capacity for research and development, the policy analysis and the training skills to answer the MDG call. But we need to prove it, because not everyone will take it as read,” Sharma said.

“We should not take our foot off the pedal,” Fraser-Moleketi said.

“Heads of government must not get a gap to propose that that the 2015 target date be extended.”

Day 2 of the conference takes place at Spier. Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University (SU), is one of the plenary speakers. It is expected that he will speak about how the university’s hope-generating vision and strategic projects help promote the international development agenda.

Photo (top) The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande; the Vice-President of South Africa, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe; the Chairperson of the ACU and Vice-Chancellor of the North West University, Dr Theuns Eloff and the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor. Photo (bottom): The Chief Executive Officer of the Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC), Prof Nasima Badsha; the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, Prof Russel Botman and the Vice-Rector (Community Interaction and Personnel, Prof Julian Smith.