In March 2012, the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) held a two-part dialogue at the University of Johannesburg on the critical subject of building the capacity of higher education to enhance regional development in Southern Africa. Vice-chancellors and thought-leaders from 15 countries throughout the region attended the first part of the dialogue entitled ‘Growing the Academy: Forging strategies for quality teaching and scholarship in Southern African universities’. The university leaders discussed policy and funding issues, explored the role of academics, identified the skills and knowledge needed for improving both teaching and research, and examined key areas for urgent intervention. This discussion touched on many issues, including:
- the main challenges facing Southern African universities in building their capacity;
- forging institutional initiatives and policy to develop and retain academic talent;
- introducing appropriate support programmes for new academics; and
- devising funding mechanisms for the region’s higher education, so that universities can play their role in supporting integrated development.
The second part of the dialogue was held in partnership with the Co-operation in Doctoral Education (CODOC) Project2 and was attended by Southern African university vice-chancellors and experts in doctoral education from around the world. Entitled ‘Doctoral education, leadership and knowledge societies: Redefining global relationships’, the workshop stressed the importance of increasing the number of doctoral students as a key component of growth in the region, and provided an opportunity for participants to reflect on strategies for strengthening doctoral education in Southern Africa, informed by international experience. A report on the CODOC workshop has been published separately on the SARUA website (www.sarua.africa).
While this report cannot capture the detail of each discussion, it provides an overview of the main features of the three-day dialogue. Together, these contributions outline the urgent need to strengthen higher education institutions in Southern Africa, describe the international context in which universities currently find themselves, outline regional trends in higher education, and suggest strategies that can be adopted to improve the quality of and access to higher education – and doctoral education in particular.