Higher education forum for the global South launched

In a promising moment for cross-continental tertiary learning, 20 August saw the Higher Education Forum for Africa, Asia and Latin America or HEFAALA officially launched in Durban on South Africa’s east coast before 60 delegates from 18 nations.

The launch followed a three-day inaugural annual HEFAALA international symposium under the banner “Continental realities, international imperatives”.

It debated issues including key trends in global and in African higher education; South-South and South-South-North co-operation; regionalisation; academic mobility and the brain drain; access, expansion and institutional differentiation; similarities and peculiarities in the global South; doctoral education; and governance, leadership and management.

HEFAALA founder and convener Professor Damtew Teferra, who leads Higher Education Training and Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa – based in Durban and at Boston College in the United States – and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of African Higher Education.

He told University World News that the aim of establishing the HEFAALA network was to create a dialogue between the three continents, recognising their commonalities and providing the opportunity to reflect on lessons they had learned in tackling higher education challenges.

It was also key to establishing a formal network of like-minded academics globally and promoting personal interactions between participants. The inaugural symposium was deliberately limited in numbers to encourage interactive exchange in a discussion format.

Acknowledging there were issues the symposium had not covered, Teferra said the concept involved attempting to tackle in-depth some of the challenges facing higher education rather than skim over a broad range.


Reflecting on the symposium and the network’s official launch, Teferra believed the initiative had over-achieved on expectations.

The objectives had been to unpack common challenges and address lessons learned; enable higher education experts to exchange ideas, experiences and potentially create joint initiatives; explore the "one size fits all" notion, realising that what has failed in some arenas was successful elsewhere; and consider the importance of international engagement in higher education.

He said by omission African higher education was among the most internationalised globally – for instance, a very high proportion of academics in African universities studied abroad. HEFAALA paves the way for participants to explore partnerships across the three continents.

“There are significant interactions happening economically and culturally, but we are not holding the right discussions on what partnerships and relationships we should consider.

“For example, China has pledged 30,000 scholarships for African students to its universities, a number incomparable to anything offered historically, but what are our partners doing?” he asked..

These activities had to offer mutual benefits, but there was a question mark over whether or not that was happening.

Teferra said the aim is for HEFAALA to be convened annually, with the University of KwaZulu-Natal Higher Education Training and Development unit and the International Network for Higher Education in Africa being the anchors.

He expects the next symposium to also be held in Durban, but thereafter wants the event to shift across the continents and countries to promote inclusion.