TAKE TIME: National views have to be taken into account in the pursuit of globalised higher education
ASK Mozambicans how they feel about their country and many give an optimistic response that the country is heading in the right direction.
Others remark that the former colonial masters are coming back, this time as friendly officials and investors to share some of the future prospects that Mozambique has created for itself, post-independence.
We now see the Chinese in large numbers in place of the Portuguese interest of the colonial days. The most obvious example yet is the airport being built in the capital city, Maputo. Not to be missed is the Chinese-like white arch, with red lettering in both Portuguese and Chinese languages, erected close to the airport.
The relationship with the Chinese is not new. It dates back to the days of the Cold War. It is little wonder, according to some, that China is extending help to Mozambique given that it is now an emerging world power while Portugal is in a quandary.
Moreover, Mozambique has been dubbed the land of plenty waiting to be discovered (or exploited!). One brochure highlighted various lucrative investment claims.
There is the promise of coal, gems, gas and land-- fertile land. These have attracted a growing number of investors by the day. The result could arguably be a transformational one -- from rags to riches as it were!
The recent Vice Chancellors Leadership Dialogue, organised by the International Association of Universities (IAU) and the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA), was hosted by Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo amidst this background.
The event was themed Internationalisation Of Higher Education -- Implications For The Knowledge Project In The Global South.
SARUA chief executive officer Piyushi Kotecha stated that despite "clear evidence of a rising demand for higher education", the challenges faced by university leaders in Southern Africa, in particular, are "dwindling numbers of academic staff, an ageing professoriate and low levels of research output".
She asserted that the revitalisation of higher education in the region -- both to strengthen quality and achieve enrolment and success rates -- underpins the transformational agenda.
Admittedly, like elsewhere, the current approaches, growth strategies and funding levels are unlikely to make any difference to realising the vision of a vibrant regional knowledge society, which is able to take its place in the community of nations and compete on an equal footing in the global economy.
The reality from the Southern African perspective, indeed the Global South, is that "cooperation between higher education institutions continues to take place on terms set by northern partners, because of the wealth available in northern countries and the dominance of northern scholarship". This has led to a situation "where knowledge generated in the north has become hegemonic, resulting in the particular being perceived as universal. Theory building, conceptual frameworks and research methodologies are largely constructed through research undertaken in developed countries, and are informed by the values and world views in those societies".
Currently, it is recognised that university leaders and decision makers in higher education are not adequately shaping the internationalisation agenda according to the priorities of the Southern African region.
In many other regions of the Global South, "internationalisation" is yet another asymmetry that is taken for granted, so much so that -- as SARUA pointed out-- that it "weakens... (its) participation in critical debates on global cooperation in higher education".
Closely linked to this are the issues related to cultural values and identity that tend to homogenise knowledge projects based on the narrow (mis)understanding of "internationalisation" that emphasises numbers and other tangible measures irrelevant to the needs of the Global South.
With these in mind, the dialogue sought to address the asymmetry created by these imbalances, backed by strategic action, resources and mechanisms while taking into account the rich African perspectives and world views.
In other words, Africa and the Global South can meaningfully contribute to world knowledge if only they are able to challenge and shift current limited paradigms to a new collaborative level.
To do this, it is perhaps wise to learn from a Mozambican proverb that is translated as "rushing is not arriving".
Though impatient to make a difference, Mozambique, Southern Africa and the Global South must not be in a hurry to arrive due to the pressures of so-called internationalisation.
Instead, they must take time to meticulously examine every assumption that is framed for them in the name of so-called globalised higher education.
Otherwise, the potential hope for an unprecedented change will be squandered yet again, this time because the university leadership fails to play the transformational role required of it.