Universities South Africa (USAf) Media Update

Universities in China reach out to their SA counterparts for collaboration

On 11 December, Universities South Africa hosted a five-member delegation of the China Association of Higher Education (CAHE) at USAf's offices in Hatfield, Pretoria. The team was headed by CAHE's Secretary General and head of the delegation, Mr Enlai Jiang. CAHE is located in the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China.

The CAHE delegation was exploring possibilities of collaborating with South Africa's universities while also seeking to understand USAf's work model and how the latter co-ordinates the university sector.

CAHE represantatives on the USAf visit
Representing CAHE on the USAf visit were (from left) Mr. Xu Yao, a member of staff in CAHE's Department of Planning and Development; Mr. Yingce Wu, Director in CAHE's Department of Planning and Development, Professor Yi Peng, Co-Director and Dean at the Confucius Institute at the University of Johannesburg and Mr Enlai Jiang, CAHE's Secretary General and head of the delegation. From USAf's side, the CAHE delegation engaged with (from right), Ms Annie Viljoen, Acting Senior Manager in USAf's Matriculation Board; Dr Oliver Seale, Director of the Higher Education Leadership and Management Programme and Dr Berene Kramer, Director: Operations and Sector Support. Prof Ahmed Bawa, the USAf CEO who was already away on leave, dialled in via video-conferencing.

Informing USAf's senior management team about CAHE, the organisation's Secretary General, Mr Enlai Jiang said CAHE, launched in May 1983, was the longest and largest influential universities' association in China with 66 branches in the country. He said CAHE had developed relationships with 2, 300 Higher Education institutions that covered most disciplines and most management fields. "Our association carries out in-depth theoretical research, training, exhibitions, international cooperation exchanges, consulting services, journal editing and educational monitoring."

He went on to say that for 19 years, CAHE held an annual Higher Education Forum and in 2019, hosted "more than 60 foreign expert guests from 24 countries and regions, and 1,400 experts and scholars from over 300 universities in China." He added that CAHE also participated in the China Higher Education Expo, the 54th edition of which had recently concluded in the latter part of 2019. "This expo attracts over 20,000 visitors from the field of higher education, around 50,000 visitors from the corporate sector and 1,300 from universities and industry. The Higher Education Expo China is recognised as the National Brand of China's Higher Education."

Mr Jiang also mentioned that CAHE was home to China's famous academic journal with 34 years of history. He said the journal focused on the research of major higher education theories, policies and practices. In 2019, the journal was awarded "The most influential Chinese academic journal." The head of the CAHE delegation said China, in the recent years, had focused on international cooperation and communication. To that end, they had to date set up collaborations with universities in Finland, Pakistan, United States, United Kingdom and Korea, to mention just few examples. "Our visit to South Africa is part of exploring new methods of international collaboration with global universities," he further explained.

He acknowledged the already existing relationships between Chinese and some of South Africa's universities - and also recognised South Africa and China's long history of friendship culminating in the 2019 summit in Brazil, between President Cyril Ramaphosa and his counterpart, President Xi Jinping. He therefore explained that they were in South Africa on a mission "to deepen collaboration of our universities to enhance cultural and economic relationships and understanding between our two countries."

Demonstrating the size of the Chinese Higher Education system, Mr Jiang said in 2018, enrolment at China's universities had reached 37 million. He said although China's "can be called a large Higher Education system, we cannot be described as strong and high quality yet. We aspire to grow to a high quality system." In closing, he invited USAf to participate in China's Higher Education Forum in 2020 and offered to set up a special booth at the event, through which USAf could encourage Chinese students to study in South Africa. "We can also create an opportunity for Presidents of SA universities to come to China to meet with their counterparts at our universities. We want to create an education facility for South Africa in China, which will create a good opportunity for initiating linkages."

The head of the CAHE delegation said he wished to hear at the next opportunity, about the role of USAf in the financial performance and quality assurance monitoring of its member institutions. He was also keen to hear what USAf was doing to promote IT development in the university sector and to share lessons with China in this regard.

In turn, Prof Ahmed Bawa, USAf's CEO, gave the Chinese a brief overview of South Africa's university system; its total enrolment figures, annual graduates output, research output per capita and research areas in which South Africa had proven her strength. He also gave an overview of USAf, its mandate, key focus areas, programmes and role players. He cited a few options via which SA could forge relationships with China. While he confirmed that USAf would not interfere with the already existing bilateral relationships between SA and Chinese universities, Prof Bawa encouraged the delegation to first seek to optimise the design of conditions for collaboration. He said this could be best achieved through working with relevant government departments including the Departments of Higher Education and Science and Technology in South Africa.

The formal engagement on 11 December was followed by a mutual exchange of corporate gifts
The formal engagement on 11 December was followed by a mutual exchange of corporate gifts.

Secondly, he cited sector-to-sector collaborations in research and postgraduate teaching -- for instance, on renewable energy or on artificial intelligence or on food security. He added that USAf could play a role in facilitating a USAf-CAHE partnership.

He said thirdly, USAf and CAHE could provide the platform for a Vice-Chancellor/Presidents forum that would meet periodically to look at the long-term sustainability of SA-China higher education collaborations. This idea, Prof Bawa added, was echoed by the Ambassador of China to South Africa, Mr Lin Songtian.

Fourthly, Prof Bawa suggested a USAf-CAHE collaboration on a research programme focusing on universities as social institutions, and on the purpose of higher education in society. Lastly, Prof Bawa suggested that China and South Africa could look at forging new university-to-university partnerships in the context of existing city-to-city twinning projects and China-South Africa student exchange programmes. Both parties anticipated a follow-up engagement in the not-so-distant future.

The visit by the CAHE delegation marks the second round of interest extended to South Africa's universities by China for collaboration in research and academic and student mobility. In October 2019, a delegation of vice-chancellors, their deputies and senior other members of executive management at SA universities were led on an educational tour of top five Chinese universities for a similar purpose.

South Africa's delegation of university leaders visited Tongji University
South Africa's delegation of university leaders visited Tongji University in Shanghai last October. Tongji University is among China's top universities that were included in the SA delegation's itinerary.

That tour was organised by the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE). CEAIE is an independent HE association whose equivalent in South Africa is the International Education Association of South Africa.

It is envisaged that sector-to-sector relationship building between China and South Africa's universities will take root during 2020.

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