University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng was part of a five-member panel that addressed international media at the close of the inaugural U7+ Alliance Summit on 10 July in Paris, where UCT was the only South African university represented.
The two-day summit of world universities, which took place under the high patronage of French President Emmanuel Macron, saw 47 university leaders from 18 countries meet in the French capital to formalise and vote on a series of founding principles, and for universities to commit to associated concrete actions to tackle global issues, within their own communities, in the context of the upcoming G7 Summit in Biarritz next month.
UCT was the only South African university represented at the event and Phakeng was seated next to Macron during the dinner that followed.
The summit voted on six principles, with Phakeng, presenting on Principle 2, reiterating on behalf of the U7+ that universities have a distinct responsibility to train and nurture responsible and active citizens who will contribute to society, from local to global level.
This principle, she explained, speaks to the centrality of students in achieving the U7+ goals.
Students are key
Adding that the alliance recognises that students are key, Phakeng said: “Our job is not just to produce graduates who are technically and scientifically skilled, but graduates who embody the values that are needed in our society. Graduates who can lead both locally and globally.”
“The sustainability of the work we do lies in the quality of the graduates we produce, which lies not just in their scientific ability but the values they bring to society.”
UCT committed to specific examples of supporting this principle, including the following:
- to increase the scope of universities’ partnerships so that institutions work with a wide variety of actors in their communities and beyond
- to emphasise the educational and civic value of community engagement
- to underlining the importance of exposing students to an international experience as well as to cultural diversity for future generations.
“The sustainability of the work we do lies in the quality of the graduates we produce, which lies not just in their scientific ability but the values they bring to society,” she said.
The other U7+ principles are:
- Principle 1: We recognise that the U7+ embodies our common will to identify and address the global challenges our contemporary societies face in order to accelerate the development of solutions. We commit to pursuing joint action through the U7+, including meeting each year in the context of the G7 process, so that our actions can weigh in the discussions and contribute to making positive change a reality.
- Principle 3: We recognise that our universities have a major role to play in addressing the environmental issues and challenges to sustainability such as climate change, biodiversity and energy transition. This should include leading by example on our own campuses.
Experiential learning opportunities
In supporting this principle, UCT committed to seeing all students, from undergraduate level, enjoy access to courses related to climate, biodiversity and sustainability during their studies – either in the traditional format or online.
The aim would be to enable exposure to the key challenges and mitigation strategies with regards to the Earth. Such courses could include experiential learning opportunities on or off campus.
- Principle 4: We recognise that universities have a distinctive and major responsibility in widening access to education and promoting inclusion and opportunity. We will also foster respectful and evidence-based public debate, in order to combat polarisation in our society.
On this principle, UCT committed to specific supporting examples, including:
- Widening access and success for students by promoting routes to university and accompanying students from marginalised backgrounds in their curricula, in order to facilitate social mobility.
- Ensuring that our universities continue to reach beyond academia, to engage with the wider public in local communities and organisations, and focus on sharing research results on key societal challenges.
- Leveraging our existing capacities in entrepreneurship, social innovation and incubation in order to create economic impact and ensure societal impact. We are in a unique position to share practices within our universities to empower future generations of entrepreneurs to create economic impact and social well-being.
- Principle 5: To engage with stakeholders and solve complex issues of global relevance, we recognise that universities must promote interdisciplinary research and learning, in particular bridging in our research and teaching between social sciences, humanities, the life sciences and STEM disciplines.
In supporting this principle, UCT and a number of other U7+ universities committed to collectively pursue and create interdisciplinary and cross-border research projects that have a societal impact on the areas captured by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular food and health, climate and energy transition, sustainability, and equal rights and opportunities.
- Principle 6: We recognise that the U7+ has the power to serve as a lab to consolidate best practices that can be shared both within our network and more broadly with universities and similar institutions worldwide for inspiration.
The U7+ brings together universities from G7 countries and beyond that are committed to academic freedom and scholarly values, and convinced of the key role of universities as global actors, to engage in discussions leading to concrete action to address pressing global challenges.
JULY 2019 | STORY SUPPLIED. PHOTO SUPPLIED.