Daring in higher education, a crazy idea: "... the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are those who do." 1997 advert by Apple Computers.

Author:Mthembu, Thandwa Z.
Position:Conference notes

November 2013 marks the third anniversary of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), an innovative programme that implores higher education to take its role as a global citizen, among many other principles. UNAI must have started with what some might have called a crazy idea. Thanks to that crazy idea, higher education has been reaping the benefits.

This article focuses on some crazy ideas from one new generation university in Bloemfontein, Free State Province, South Africa, called the Central University of Technology (CUT), Free State. It was the first time since the launch of UNAI that a UNAI-themed colloquium and a plenary panel discussion were held in Africa.

These interrelated events were co-hosted by CUT, the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) and UNAI during the week of 19-23 August 2013. Representatives from UNAI and IAUP, including Alvaro Romo, IAUP Secretary General Elect (2014-17) attended these events. These two meetings were, in turn, anchored by the 17th International Education Association of South Africa that CUT hosted on 21-24 August.


UNAI is a global initiative that seeks to align higher education institutions with the United Nations call on them to make a concerted commitment to use education, research and innovation as engines of global development.

Given CUT's "Vision 2020", which locates us in the epicentre of regional development, we could not miss the opportunity to co-host this event. In doing so, we learned more about our role in development and shared with our international partners some of our innovative initiatives on which I will report later.

Global citizenship is a concept that is becoming more significant in our rapidly changing interconnected world. Not only are we interconnected electronically and technologically, but socially, economically and environmentally, too. In fact, long before globalization took root, internationalization among universities had always been there. As global citizens with arguably the best intellectual and other resources at our disposal, universities must tackle the challenges and demands they face.

Among these global challenges and demands are fierce competition for recognition and excellence, the inequality in the political economy of knowledge production, brain drain, dwindling resource allocation and exploding student numbers as a result of the increasing demand for higher education. Furthermore, higher education faces calls for greater social relevance by helping to solve major societal problems. The paradox of increased state steering and accountability imposed on increasingly market-orientated and autonomous universities remains a vexed challenge.

The colloquium and the panel discussion sought to unravel some of these challenges and demands, more so as CUT itself seeks to locate its educational outcomes in societal and, more particularly, regional development, be it social, economic and/or...

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