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International Rectors discuss the role of universities at UWC

International Rectors discuss the role of universities at UWC

Universities should do more than produce knowledge – they should also share information to the advantage of the community, and the world. That was the central message when representatives of several African and European universities met at the University of the Western Cape for a roundtable discussion on Tuesday 4 February 2014 on The Role of Universities in Development Cooperation.

The discussions formed part of a celebration of the close of a ten-year support programme referred to as the Dynamics of Building a Better Society (DBBS), an initiative brought about by partnerships between UWC and especially Belgian and Flemish universities, with the support of the Brussels-based VLIR-UOS.

The key points of discussion dealt with universities' quest for innovative solutions to local and global challenges – a quest felt to be not just a social responsibility, but a moral duty as well.

“Here at UWC, when we know things, we give them away,” said Prof Brian O'Connell, UWC's Vice-Chancellor and Rector. “We're faced with dramatic challenges, and parting with knowledge is how a university can contribute to its people.”

The measure of a university's value does not lie only in the head-count of its students or the number of research papers they produce, Prof O'Connell noted. “What is the point if a university adds no moral value to help make an effective contribution to society and the world? The true value is in caring for humans and behaving this way consistently, especially at a university level.”

Kristien Verbrugghen, who heads up VLIR-UOS, said an enabling environment is crucial for meeting this goal. “Without support at our own universities, and effective execution of improved links with other universities, global communication and cooperation would be ineffective. University administrators need to take care of administrative processes beyond just the academic issues.”

Prof James Collins, a visiting professor from the University at Albany, State University of New York, and who is currently part of an exchange programme at UWC, explained that universities reveal their moral character in their commitment to preserving humanity's future.

“Very few are willing to venture into an enterprise where a contribution is made not only to your university, but to your country, and beyond the borders of your country,” he said. “You have to be able to talk about other means of measuring value. We're all in this boat together.”