Knowledge must be used to address societal challenges, says Rector at COREVIP
“We can only claim to be of real significance if we use our knowledge to address the societal challenges we face as a continent. This is the niche that we need to carve out for higher education in Africa: to be relevant to the needs of our people.”
This was the message of Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University in his welcoming address at the opening of the COREViP conference of the Association of African Universities (AAU) held in Stellenbosch this week.
Prof Botman welcomed the more than 200 Rectors, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of African universities that are attending the conference on higher education, themed Strengthening the space of higher education in Africa and hosted by Stellenbosch University in collaboration with the AAU, at the Spier conference centre from 30 May until 3 June 2011.
COREViP is an assembly of the chief executive officers of member institutions or their representatives. It meets every two years with the purpose of collectively examining themes identified as common concerns and priorities for the development of higher education in member institutions; making recommendations primarily to members, as well as to the Governing Board, and to the Secretariat; and acting as a mid-term forum for taking stock of the implementation of the decisions of the General Conference and recommending corrective measures.
Prof Botman said that the usual response to question on what the needs in Africa are “is that we need solutions to our many problems: hunger, disease, homelessness, exploitation, corruption, violence, pollution, unemployment, etc. But Africa is not just a place of pain; it is also a place of hope. With economies in Africa consistently registering a growth rate of 5% or 6%, the rest of the world is waking up to our continent’s potential.”
He added that although tertiary enrolment has risen faster in Africa than anywhere else – by some 66% since 1999, the number of students entering higher education is still only 6% of the eligible age group – much lower than in other parts of the world.
“However, our challenge goes beyond the numbers. Quality matters too. Africa produces only 0.7% of the world’s scientific research, so clearly we are not doing enough to come up with home-grown solutions to our own problems in Africa,” he said.
“It is only by putting ourselves at the service of society collaboratively that we as universities will be able to improve the prospects of future generations. This, more than anything, will strengthen the space for higher education in Africa. Collaboratively we must carve out the space for higher education in Africa by demonstrating our relevance to society.”
Other Stellenbosch speakers include Prof Julian Smith, Vice-Rector: Community Interaction and Personnel, Prof Johann Mouton, Director of the African Doctoral Academy (ADA) and the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), and Ms Ellen Tise, Senior Director: Library and Information Service.
Prof Botman, who is a Vice-President of the AAU, will host the welcoming event for delegates in the Endler Hall on Monday evening. The Stellenbosch University choir, staff and students of the Conservatorium’s music certificate programme and Clement Maimbolwa, a visually impaired guitar player from Zambia, will perform at this event.
Participants comprise executive heads of AAU member institutions, acclaimed African scholars, representatives of sub-regional, regional and international organisations, as well as donor and development agencies that partner with the AAU.