SARUA outlines higher education roadmap for SADC

The Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) has unveiled its strategic plan to support tertiary education institutions to make a meaningful impact in the communities and societies in which they are situated.

SARUA, a membership-based association of public and private universities in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), wants to become a catalyst for higher education revitalisation and innovation in the SADC, according to Professor René Pellissier, SARUA head of climate change and sustainable development in the SADC.

“We see SARUA as a bridge connecting higher education institutions within the SADC region through foresight and shared sense-making, making a collective impact that addresses societal challenges and promotes sustainable growth within the region,” Pellissier said during a webinar on 29 August to present the draft strategic plan for the association for the period 2023-27.

She added that the plan would serve as a roadmap outlining the strategic purpose, focus areas and strategic goals to advance higher education in the SADC region.

Reiterating its mission, she said SARUA wants to support the tertiary sector by fostering innovation, adaptative capacity and inclusiveness through collaboration and multi-sector partnerships. In addition, it will advocate for the voice of higher education in regional and national development agendas.

Power in numbers

SARUA member institutions include Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Introducing SARUA’s Strategic Plan (2024-28), Pellissier said there was power in numbers, and the association was committed to facilitating higher education collaboration for innovation and resilience in the SADC.

Pellissier said SARUA wants to build a more robust, responsive higher education system for innovation, resilience and sustainability in the SADC region.

Among the association’s six strategic priorities is the aim, firstly, to support higher education institutions. One of the ways is through alignment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Regional Development Goals for Knowledge Co-production, with the capacity for inter- and transdisciplinary approaches, drawing on relationships with the SADC Secretariat and regional and international development partners.

The second strategic goal is to foster foresight and sense-making for higher education innovation, resilience and responsiveness. As part of this goal, she said, the focus would be on thought leadership and emphasis on higher education and regional trends. At the same time, research and information dissemination would be core to this imperative.

Thirdly, she said, SARUA wants to identify and support leadership and professional development capacity-building opportunities. Core to this objective is the provision of capacity-building opportunities and the building of SARUA communities of practice, made up of groups of academics sharing a concern or interest in something they do and learning how to do it better through engagement.

Fourthly, SARUA’s support for network members to achieve their goals through digital transformation is key to its goals. The fifth goal is better network capability through a stakeholder engagement system, communications strategy and regional higher education information management system.

Finally, the sixth strategic goal is a practical governance framework and operational effectiveness underpinned by objectives around strengthening the governance framework, operational plan, operational effectiveness and efficiency, a digitally enabled virtual network, financial stability and conducive organisational culture.


Although discussions began a decade earlier, SARUA was born with funding from the Netherlands Department of Foreign Affairs. It had among its membership 61 universities across 15 countries. When funding ended in 2012, membership fees were introduced as the primary source of income.

Pellissier said the rationale for establishing SARUA in 2007 continues to present a compelling basis for the role of the association.

The founding goals for SARUA were premised on the following:

• Fostering a regional identity;

• Facilitating collaboration and partnerships;

• Identifying key areas for strategic research;

• Enhancing leadership knowledge and capacity; and

• Advocating for higher education’s voice in regional and national development agendas.

Introducing SARUA’s strategic plan, Pellissier said there was power in numbers, and SARUA was committed to facilitating higher education collaboration for innovation and resilience in the SADC region.

She said the draft strategic plan would be available for comment with a 23 September deadline before it would be ratified by the executive committee in October and submitted to members for approval in November. After that, the plan would be rolled out in January 2024.

Citing the example of an initiative to be finalised with the European Union, Walter Claassen, the project lead for the SARUA Digital Transformation focus, said six SADC countries united under the SARUA banner to successfully pitch for the project, ensuring there would be collaboration between institutions in the region and Europe.

“SARUA can be a mediator for bigger projects, ensuring collaboration with larger benefits, rather than trying individually, which can be difficult,” he added.

During the question and answer session, there was optimism over the plan; however, one academic suggested discussing harmonisation of credits.

SARUA indicated that, since each country’s accreditation authority has its own legislation on academic credits, standardisation may not necessarily be possible unless there is further debate and discussion at decision-making level.