Prof Ylva Rodny-Gumede is the Senior Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Division for Internationalisation. She recently penned an opinion piece published in the Mail & Guardian on 11 Mar 2020.
The coronavirus is wreaking havoc globally; it has also affected the work of universities. Some countries have closed down academic projects and international interactions completely; many universities have enforced travel bans to control and curb incoming and outgoing travel for staff and students. Of course, this affects research, as well as teaching and learning. In particular, it affects internationalisation projects at universities.
International travel and staff and student exchanges are crucial for universities. Knowledge production is dependent on a diverse set of views and experiences and most universities and centres of higher learning put much time and effort into ensuring a diverse and multicultural experience for both staff and students.
We have to assume the coronavirus is not going to shut down universities and, even if it comes to that, we have to hope that such an eventuality will not be long term.
This said, the current situation comes with opportunities. We have a chance to reassess what internationalisation means and how it is promoted at universities. We have an opportunity to take stock and reflect on what we want to achieve through our internationalisation projects.
Sustainable best practices
Furthermore, we should use existing, internal resources more effectively — in particular, human resources. At the University of Johannesburg international students comprise 8% of the total student population; international staff make up 18% of the total staff contingency. This is our moment to bring their voices into the broader discussions at the university; to draw on and listen to a diverse set of international experiences. In the main, these are citizens from Southern African countries. Sometimes in our eagerness to go further and further afield we can miss out on what is on our doorstep.