Can we energise existing collaborations in education and research between Dutch and South African educational institutions, start new collaborations and strengthen relations between the two countries? This was the core of the knowledge mission that outgoing Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf undertook with representatives of 21 knowledge institutes between 15 and 18 October. Elisabeth Minnemann, Chairman of the Executive Board of The Hague University of Applied Sciences, also went along, as one of the representatives and figurehead on behalf of higher professional education.
Dijkgraaf: "International cooperation is crucial for the quality and exchange of knowledge. Cooperation in education and research between our continents is all-important to address global challenges such as energy transition and food security. I look forward to working with 21 institutions and organisations to facilitate new collaborations between the Netherlands and South Africa." source: rijksoverheid.nl
For THUAS, three main goals were set for the trip to South Africa, which can certainly be called successful:
Learning together from our South African partners
The Hague University of Applied Sciences' ambition is to contribute to a sustainable and just society through high-quality, practice-oriented education and research. The themes of the knowledge mission (social justice, equal opportunities, open science, academic freedom and the equitable energy transition) dovetailed perfectly with these. Therefore, besides perpetuating and expanding collaborations, this trip was mainly about listening to our South African partners and learning about the South African education sector, its context and challenges.
Thus, on the first day, the programme included a visit to Castle of Good Hope and the reconciliation building. This fort, built between 1664 and 1679 by order of the Dutch East Indian Company, today serves as a symbol of the slavery past and as a museum. The museum's director explained impressively how the castle has been transformed into a national heritage site, a place for Ubuntu where dialogue, reconciliation and human rights are central. Another impressive visit was to Usasazo High School in Khayelitsha, a township near Cape Town. The headmaster of this school, together with his team, proves that despite the social inequality and limited resources inherent in life in the townships, you can make a difference together and make a positive contribution to the lives of your students. Elisabeth Minnemann: "This school shows: if you put teachers in a good position and let them develop, the whole school and especially the students benefit. What I also found very impressive was the huge level of student participation. We can learn from this."
Also instructive was the interactive session on the last day in the Innovation Village on the theme of 'Bridging the skills gap', also addressing the huge youth unemployment in South Africa. In the presence of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, who were in South Africa on a state visit, professionals from the field from both countries, labour market representatives and some students discussed how, for example, innovations in senior secondary vocational education, higher education and business can contribute to a smoother connection between education and the labour market and the creation of more internships. A key conclusion the panel came away with was that there is a very big challenge that cannot be solved easily or quickly. But with better coordination between business and educational institutions, especially focusing on the skills that business demands from recent graduates, a good deal can be done.
Strengthen and deepen existing collaborations with South Africa
Collaboration is about building relationships. Building on existing collaborative relationships and establishing new ones. Therefore, it was a happy coincidence that Minister Dijkgraaf gave his opening speech for the knowledge mission at the University of Western Cape (UWC), one of THUAS' existing South African research partners.
The minister spoke on UWC's campus about the importance of education as a key to freedom and personal development at a university that played a crucial role in the resistance during the apartheid era. After the speech, there was a question-and-answer session with some very engaged, activist students who talked about the challenging future they and their fellow students face: graduate unemployment is currently over 60%.
At the Mayibuye Archive on the campus, members of the delegation saw the unique multimedia collections featuring various facets of resistance to Apartheid, both inside and outside South Africa's borders. The archivist, who showed several items to the delegation, underlined the importance of cooperation in re-evaluating history.
At the end of the visit to our partner university, representatives of The Hague and UWC talked about the current state of cooperation and the possibility of a new research project in collaboration with Centre of Expertise Mission Zero.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) was a second partner university visited. With this partner, already associated with our Faculty of Technology, Innovation & Society, we discussed expanding the cooperation even further, specifically towards our sports programmes.
Besides the partner universities, there were also opportunities to catch up with old acquaintances, such as at the alumni dinner. It was interesting to hear from them how an international internship or study period abroad can affect your career. For instance, one of the two Dutch alumni decided to stay there after his final internship in Cape Town. The visit was not just out for fun or out of interest, we also discussed what we can do for each other in the future. Hearing alumni of ours on the other side of the world speak with warmth and pride about 'their' THUAS remains a special experience.
Another important alumnus visited during the trip: Albert van Oudheusden. He is an important link for The Hague in South Africa, especially for the Mission Zero Centre of Expertise projects.
Long-term embedding of the results of the iKudu project and the DCT-REES project
THUAS highlighted two research projects (Erasmus+) during this trip in order to perpetuate and build on their results.
iKudu Transforming Curricula Through Internationalisation and Virtual Exchanges - Centre of Expertise Global & Inclusive learning
iKudu focuses on creating a community of practice for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) and the role it can play in the internationalisation of the curriculum. COIL is a method where students from different countries work together remotely in groups of different sizes to solve a problem together. To do so, they use online tools such as Skype, Teams or Zoom to complete a joint assignment, developing several 21st-century skills, including virtual teamwork, intercultural communication and effective use of IT tools. iKudu involves higher education institutions: five in South Africa and five in Europe, including The Hague University of Applied Sciences, from which 55 different COIL practices have already emerged. COIL is a powerful, inclusive tool in the internationalisation of education. That is why it attracted a lot of interest, including from several new potential cooperation partners.
DCT-REES: Direct Current Technology Renewable Energy Education and Skill - Centre of Expertise Mission Zero
In the DCT-REES project, THUAS is working with seven South African universities and colleges on knowledge transfer in the field of DC voltage. By using direct current and advanced power electronics, it is possible, without AC power from the grid, to still provide energy supply with solar PV, batteries and household appliances. On average, a solar panel in South Africa generates twice as much energy as the same panel in the Netherlands. Yet the uptake and use of renewable energy is much slower than you would expect based on its potential, which is partly due to poorly aligned education. Fortunately, in recent years more and more companies and start-ups are focusing on affordable and stable energy supply for (small) businesses and individuals.
DCT-REES ended as an Erasmus+ project this year, but the collaboration with our network in South Africa continues. Indeed, during the trip, an MoU was signed between The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Technology, Innovation & Society and the Tshwane University of Technology (TuT), Faculty of Engineering, about a continuation of this research project.