“Internationalising Postgraduate Training and Grassroots Social Change” is the title of a collaborative NRF-funded project which the University of Venda (UNIVEN) Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Peter Mbati, launched on Thursday, 6 July 2017 in the Council Chambers. This took place in the presence of traditional leaders, grassroots community representatives of the Vhembe Adopt a River Forum as well as UNIVEN staff and postgraduate students. Project leaders, namely Prof Joseph Francis, Director of the Institute for Rural Development and Mr Cornelius Hagenmeier, Director International Relations, designed the project. The goal of the project is to give birth to a vibrant, community-based rural and regional development network which connects grassroots communities, governmental and non-governmental stakeholders as well as universities across national boundaries in Southern Africa. It is also designed to develop a novel model for internationalising research-based Masters and PhD studies in rural development. This 2017-2019 National Research Foundation-funded project will be implemented in collaboration with the University of Fort Hare’s Alice campus and North West University, Mafikeng campus. Two yet to be confirmed universities in Zimbabwe will also be brought on board as strategic regional collaborating institutions.
In his welcome address, Prof Mbati revealed that the university understands internationalisation as a core driver of institutional transformation. He emphasised that UNIVEN places considerable value in innovation to achieve internationalisation and rural development. He noted and appreciated the participation of primary beneficiaries, namely community members and postgraduate students, in shaping the direction of the project. Given such an empowering approach, Prof Mbati argued that this initiative would enhance the image of UNIVEN and strengthen its rightful position as a catalyst for connecting rural communities in the Southern African Development Community to the global world of knowledge.
Prof Francis and Mr Hagenmeier explained that they mounted the project because of their belief that internationalisation can make a significant contribution to the transformation of higher education and rural development. They underlined that they aim to expose students and grassroots community members such that they strengthen their intercultural competencies thereby empowering them for success in this age of globalisation. It was explained that the interventions underpinning the project included traveling seminars and homestays for both postgraduate students and grassroots community members. Travelling seminars, meant to discuss students’ academic work, will be organised in collaboration with partner universities, rural communities, government and non-governmental organisations. On the other hand, homestays will involve placing students and grassroots community members even beyond regional borders.
Another notable element of the project is human capital development. Through the NRF funding, 4 Honours students per year, 5 research Masters and 4 PhD candidates will receive bursaries. The project leaders reported that in the last year of the funding cycle an international conference will be organised during which the work done will be shared. There are also plans to expand the project to include more universities and sustaining its implementation beyond the 3-year funding period.
Messages of support from the two collaborating universities were received and read during the launch. Prof Victor Mlambo, the North West University’s Director of the School of Agricultural Sciences expressed his excitement about his University’s involvement. He said, “…..The rapidly evolving challenges that our communities face, means that we, as educators, need to continuously think outside the box when designing training programmes for future agents of change, our graduates. I can’t think of any better approach than being part of this ‘Africanised, contextualised, localised and internationalized’ postgraduate training programme.” Prof Voster Muchenje said, “….The uniqueness of this collaboration is that it will involve students from the three universities working together. I am quite certain that we will reach great heights.”
In response to the launch of the project, Mr Wiseman Ndlovu (PhD in Rural Development candidate) welcomed it and highlighted that students would do all in their power to make it a success. For him, this was a unique initiative that could be equated to a furnace used in the production of high quality steel (graduates in this respect). Headman Donald Mlati from the Njhakanjhaka traditional council appreciated the project, stressing that communities were open to share the indigenous knowledge vested in them with the world at large. He commended UNIVEN for driving both internationalisation and Africanisation as part of its transformation agenda, and explained how regional integration of communities was relevant in Southern Africa where artificial boundaries divide member countries. He went on to say, “….This is the first time I am finding myself sharing a platform with Honours, Masters and PhD students….., which has made me realise that something needs to be done to make our communities understand that university studies do not merely end with a first degree ….because most of us as parents and guardians are ignorant of this and often push our sons and daughters not to pursue further studies after graduating with a first degree.”
The Dean of the School of Agriculture, Prof Godwin Mchau, wished the project well. He said, “I am happy because this project will benefit both students and communities in which they will be placed in.” The success of the project should be measured by its impact on local, regional and international communities. For the Director of Community Engagement, Prof Vhonani Netshandama, the launch of this project was a welcome relief. She expressed the view that the project would help to operationalize some key elements of the university’s “integrated community engagement initiatives” strategic objective. Directing her address at postgraduate students, in particular, Prof Netshandama encouraged them to fully participate in it because they are likely to benefit a lot from. “….You have all our support and we believe that you will go out there and make us proud,” she concluded.
Issued by: Department of Communications and Marketing
University of Venda
Tel: 015 962 8525
Date: 19 July 2017