SOUTH AFRICA: Europeans start recruitment drive

European universities trying to recruit overseas students made a careful reconnaissance entry into South Africa on 20 and 21 May when the European Delegation in Johannesburg set up the first Study in Europe Fair to be held in the country.

"The best service we can provide to internationalisation is to bring people together. This is a modest start, but I hope we will repeat this," said EU ambassador Roeland van de Geer as he opened the fair.

Modest indeed, but while the fair went off to a slow start on Friday, on Saturday hundreds of Johannesburg students dropped by to hear more about the opportunities in Europe's higher education market of 19 million students and 4,000 institutions.

One of Europe's biggest attractions today is its Erasmus Mundus programme which provides collaborative postgraduate programmes of consortia of European universities. Shingiriai Mutanga of Zimbabwe is an Erasmus Mundus alumnus who found work in South Africa after studying in Europe.

"That would never have been possible without the degree I got in Europe," he said. "I studied geoinformation science and Earth observation for environmental modelling at Southampton, Lund, Warsaw and the ITC in Enschede in the Netherlands. Such a pooling of strengths is unheard of in Africa. We really got the best of many worlds.

"It was my first time ever out of Africa and I was thrown in at the deep end, travelling from European country to European country. When my friends were celebrating Christmas, I was packing my boxes to move from England to Sweden. It was tough but it was so much worth it!"

Other alumni at the fair wholeheartedly agreed with both the benefits and the drawbacks of the very intensive programmes. Erik Litver, First Secretary Skills & Education in the Netherlands Embassy in South Africa represented his small country at the fair.

"Why I'm here? South Africa has a very young population, an incredible pool of students and some excellent universities," he said. "In our external relations, the country is moving out of the group of developing countries and into the group of transition countries. This means that we are reorienting our policies towards South Africa and intensifying cooperation in higher education fits really well into this."

The fair was held at Johannesburg universities and with representatives from the European Commission and member states Austria, France, The Netherlands and Spain. The European Delegation hopes to make it an annual event.