Putting reflective practice at the heart of leadership

At the centre of transformative leadership stands the reflective practitioner, an individual learner – either student or staff member – who is open to a constant exchange of knowledge, cultures and world views and who does not simply memorise but grapples with information, understands it and is also able, where necessary, to challenge it.

This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

This is the view of Professor Yusuf Karodia, one of the founders of Honoris United Universities – a pan-African private higher education network which he says is “dedicated to preparing and educating the next generation of African leaders and professionals able to impact regionally in a globalised world”.

Currently it involves 32,000 students and 10 institutions in 30 cities across nine African countries, including Tunisia and Morocco in North Africa and a range of institutions in Southern Africa.

Karodia said the Honoris platform seeks to develop “solution-centred” and creative leaders and professionals, capable of reflecting on their own practice in a bid for continuous learning; people who can make a positive impact in tomorrow’s economies and in the region’s communities.

“Our platform fosters problem solving, critical thinking and attempts to root these capabilities in academic and personal skills,” he said.

Coping with change and diversity

The Honoris mission is based on three pillars that capitalise on its unique pan-African identity and ability to tap into a range of regional cultures and human resources. The pillars are collaborative intelligence, cultural agility and a mobile mindset – all of which speak to the need to embrace different world views and cultures in Africa and develop a mindset which appreciates the need to respond positively and adapt to accelerated and constant change, said Karodia.

“Local players cannot talk about higher education from an international perspective like we can. Fifty of our people from South Africa have already visited our North African counterparts as part of our exchange programmes, and vice-versa,” he said.

Precisely because of its diversity, the network, which comprises multidisciplinary universities, specialised schools, technical and vocational institutes, contact and distance institutions, is able to better identify curricula and skills gaps and create programmes to address challenges facing the continent, he said.

The core target of Honoris is Africa’s “rising middle class” with options available for full-time and part-time study.
“Our objective it to increase access to accredited and affordable quality education across Africa. That’s also why we offer different type of delivery mode: contact, distance learning and online.”

While annual tuition rates vary according to the institution and level of qualification, fees range from US$1,500 year for a technical and vocational qualification to US$7,000 for a Master’s in Business Administration.

While the network incorporates older institutions such as the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) of which Karodia is the principal, and Regent Business School, the network itself is young.

The launch of Honoris United Universities was officially announced in July last year by Actis, a United Kingdom-based private equity firm focused on emerging markets which said it had invested US$275 million into the Honoris network aimed at tapping into the continent’s rapidly growing demand for higher education.

Network expansion

The most recent addition to the network – the UPSAT Group – was announced last week. UPSAT is a higher education institution in Tunisia specialising in paramedical training and it brings on board three schools based in Tunis, Sousse and Sfax. The announcement about UPSAT coincided with the opening by Honoris of a purpose-built medical simulation centre in the Tunisian capital of Tunis.

In addition to health sciences, the Honoris network offers more than a hundred degrees in engineering, IT, business, law, architecture, arts and design, media, education and political science.

Karodia said the network is constantly alive to the way in which technology is changing the future world of work and the way in which the fourth industrial revolution is escalating the need for collaborative intelligence, cultural agility and a mobile mindset.

“That’s a future we must invest in and that’s what the platform aims to do,” he said. “Our responsibility is to be at forefront of learning and teaching.”

He said in Honoris’ numerous programmes, the emphasis is on education for impact. “We try to be as competitive as possible in order to create appropriate leadership,” he said.

“Transformative leadership has to be about change. In my view, transformative leaders encourage, inspire and motivate both employees and students to innovate and create change that will ensure the future success of institutions in a sustainable way,” he said.

Personal experience

“Personal experience is important too. Educators need to connect learners’ search for meaning and purpose through a variety of personal experiences. Educators must be able to help learners to constantly interrogate their understanding of themselves and the world.

“In this way we try to address one of the central problems facing higher education institutions: they prepare people for the world of formal employment but not to become entrepreneurs or to create job opportunities or get involved in NGOs.”

“It’s not all about the world of work. [It is about] learning as a moral activity which ideally leads towards a broader contribution towards the common good,” he said. In this respect Honoris has incorporated ethical management and leadership training into the core curriculum.

“Whereas before, it used to be compartmentalised in an isolated module, ethical management is now part of all our modules,” he said.

Karodia said Africa – both the North and South – has a legacy of oppressive regimes that rendered issues such as diversity, access, redress and equity of prime importance in the higher education sector.

“It means we have to put extra emphasis on ensuring higher success rates, throughput rates, opportunities for women and facilitating academic enrichment paths for students struggling with subjects such as mathematics and literacy,” he said.

To this end, Honoris introduced a programme to enhance the skills of informal traders in South Africa and is taking outreach programmes to rural areas to supplement the education of school children. As part of its Women in Leadership programme, it has also partnered with Women in Africa Philanthropy to support 54 young women entrepreneurs with free training for one year, with each course adapted to the specific needs of the individual to accelerate her project.