The South increasingly looks to the South for cooperation

Cooperation between universities in the Global South is growing, according to delegates gathered at the third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference – WHEC2022 – and many believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has served to accelerate this trend.

“One of the lessons of COVID is that Africa cannot just depend on outside support to solve its own problems. Research must be focused on development and one of the ways we can do that is by collaborating among ourselves,” said Olusola Oyewole, secretary-general of the Association of African Universities (AAU).

For the past year, the association has been encouraging regional organisations such as the Inter-University Council for East Africa and the Association of West African Universities to work together more closely.

World Higher Education Conference 2022. This conference is convened by UNESCO and University World News is the exclusive media partner.

The AAU’s Africa Centers of Excellence programme, underway since 2014 and funded by the World Bank, has established networks of researchers working on areas including agriculture, digitalisation, water resources and climate change.

“The system of North-South collaboration has not really provided the development that we desire. We are not asking them to move away, but we want North-South-South co-operation,” said Oyewole.

Increase in regional partners

Secretary-General of Universities Caribbean Myriam Moise said she has seen the number of international projects at her institution, Université des Antilles, rise sharply since the pandemic and more of these involve partners from the region.

This trend is being driven by the recognition that Caribbean countries face similar problems. These might be coastal erosion due to climate change or the spread of invasive species such as the Sargassum seaweed, which can contaminate beaches from the Antilles to Barbados, she said.

At WHEC2022, Moise met with colleagues from India to discuss plans for a project on gaming.

“The South is really trying to make connections through its diaspora,” she said, referencing the Indian indentured labourers who were brought to Caribbean countries by European colonialists. “We aim to use its expertise to serve the region. We are doing research to develop employability so if I do cooperation with India, it is because I want our students to get jobs.”

Many Brazilian universities traditionally look to the Global North for co-operation. But Sandra Goulart Almeida, rector of Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) and president of Montevideo Group Association of Universities, believes a shift towards the South has been underway for some time now.

“Twenty years ago, UFMG had minimal collaboration with the rest of Latin America but now it accounts for the majority,” she said, with Argentina now the biggest partner.

Greater benefits

Belonging to the Montevideo Group has been a key enabler, she said, but other factors in common such as the recent past, the experience of democratisation, and the struggle to increase access to higher education also play a role.

Compared with cooperating with the North, “it is harder work, because it won’t just happen spontaneously, but in the end the benefits are greater,” she said.

Facilitating regional cooperation is one of the avowed aims of the next TRESAL survey of Latin American and Caribbean higher education presented on the eve of WHEC2022 by OBREAL Global. Beginning with a pilot in September and an official start at the end of 2022, the survey will gather and validate reliable data on the state of play in the region’s universities.

“It’s very important for this association to match the data available elsewhere, not only to favour Latin American integration, but also to make access to Africa, India and other regions in the South easier for us,” said Nicolás Patrici, OBREAL development and strategy director.

Adrián Bonilla, executive director of the EU-LAC Foundation in Hamburg, Germany, detects a change of gears in the quality of regional dialogue in Latin American and Caribbean higher education.

“Before we had purely intuitive ways of trying to meet similar needs, but now we have real spaces to meet and share,” he said. Bonilla puts this development, which is recent, down to the increased use of communication technologies and the influence of globalisation.