The theme of the conference was “Innovation and Resilience in Higher Education Internationalisation in an Era of Covid-19 & Beyond”, and participants included delegates from across the continent of Africa as well as representatives of several members of the Network of International Education Associations.

“Universities need to get “in line” to come online”

Thuli Madonsela, chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University’s Law Faculty delivered a keynote address, in which she emphasised the role of internationalisation in promoting social justice, inclusivity.

Madonsela was of the view that despite the negative and ravaging impacts of Covid-19, the pandemic also presented several opportunities to different sectors and areas of HE.

Emeritus professor Pai Obanya of University of Ibadan urged participants to use the pandemic situation as a springboard to re-strategise.

He called for the need to reconceptualise internationalisation as multidirectional, mind-to-mind with teaching and learning, and research for mutual enrichment.

An African responsive model of internationalisation, he continued, must be predicated on more internal cohesion in Africa; initially at national level, across the various institutions, and then across the regions in Africa.

He also called for the building of a stronger Africa to then engage with the rest of the world.

However, Obanya warned, enabling conditions are needed to work online, which is not working well enough because of the digital divide and suggested that universities needed to get “in line” to come online.

A UNESCO report published in 2020 showed that only 11% of learners in sub-Saharan Africa have a household computer and only 18% have household internet, compared to the 50% of learners globally who have computers in the home and the 57% who have access to internet.

Rosemond Boohene of the University of Cape Coast pointed out that while Covid was just one of many crises facing universities on the continent, it was one of unprecedented impact for which universities were not prepared, particularly with regard to online teaching and learning.

She noted the importance of investment in relevant technologies, infrastructures and support systems. Other major obstacles were the impact the pandemic has had on the financial sustainability of universities, which have generated income from international students to supplement decreasing government funding, as well as challenges regarding insufficient internet and bandwidth.

At the conclusion of the conference, Amy Fishburn of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane and vice chairperson of ANIE said the conference had reaffirmed her experience in the connections and circular relationship between disruption, innovation and resilience.

“We have learned resilience,” said Fisher, adding that she is looking forward to finding out what students have learned.

Fisher added that the IEASA-ANIE partnership is in a better situation to advance internationalisation of HE and not rely on travel, which has limited the two organisations.

“We have seen how the two organisations can connect and encounter each other through online media, in ways we didn’t before.

“There is no limit to advancing internationalisation in Africa, and we look forward to the collaboration,” she added.

“There is no limit to advancing internationalisation in Africa”

Roshen Kishun, the first president of IEASA and the first chair of the ANIE board added that the coronavirus lockdown has exposed the unpreparedness of HEIs the world over, especially regarding the ability to maximise and use technology.

The advanced online technology has shattered the boundary that distances us from the rest of the world, however, the “new normal” post-Covid world may present its own challenges, he said.

Kishun added that IEASA/ANIE need to be prepared to deal the levels of inequality in promoting online student options by taking into consideration the digital divide in Africa.

Referencing the figures quoted in the UNESCO report he added, “these are challenges that need innovation and resilience to overcome”.

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