Northeastern Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Madigan and Zeblon Zenzele Vilakazi, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding expressing a shared desire to work together and find areas of collaboration and opportunity .
“We are extremely excited to build this partnership,” said Madigan, noting that Wits could become Northeastern’s anchor in South Africa.
Vilakazi, a nuclear physicist and a member of the UK’s Royal Society, said he was also pleased to see this partnership strengthened.
He quoted an African proverb and said: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, let’s go together.”
The two parties agreed last Thursday to draw up a list of action points and identify concrete projects as soon as possible.
Wits is Nelson Mandela’s alma mater and one of the top two universities in Africa. It is internationally recognized, research-intensive and committed to the common good.
The Wits delegation to Northeastern included Barry Dwolatzky, director of innovation strategy and director of the Joburg Center of Software Engineering; Helen Rees, Founder and Executive Director of Wits’ Reproductive Health and HIV Institute; and Kendal Makgamathe, Vice Chancellor’s Head of External Relations.
The connection was made possible by Northeastern’s Africa Global Initiative and Hazel Sive, Dean of the College of Science and Chair of the AGI.
“This is a great opportunity for Northeastern,” said Sive, a graduate of Wits. “It’s a wonderful place for us to connect.”
Wits and its demographics, Sive said, changed completely after the fall of apartheid. It is now a highly respected, vibrant educational institution with outstanding research in science, technology, health, humanities and the arts.
“It seemed like this would be a great university for us to partner with,” Sive said. “It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of this first meeting with the Vice Chancellor.”
The South African guests also met with Chancellor and Senior Vice President for Learning Ken Henderson, various deans, department heads and researchers. Henderson introduced the guests to the Northeast organization, its experiential learning model, and the university’s vision for success and the future in higher education.
Vilakazi has had stimulating, in-depth discussions with the Northeastern deans, he said, and looks forward to discussing meaningful collaboration opportunities with the Wits faculty deans. He was most impressed by the Northeast’s global vision and cooperation program, he said.
Guests showed tremendous interest in Northeastern’s Center for Law, Equity and Race, Sive said. She also sees opportunities for collaboration and research connections between Northeastern and Wits in the areas of climate solutions, health solutions, drug development, public health, epidemiology, social justice and more.
Northeastern’s physics department already has strong connections with Wits between high-energy physicists and string theorists, Sive said.
“There is great interest in joint Ph.D. Training between the two institutions, starting with physics, but we envision a joint PhD. programs or dual Ph.D. programs over a series [of fields],” she said. “Nothing beats a joint Ph.D. bringing people together.”
One of the events organized by the Africa Global Initiative as part of the Wits delegation’s visit was a fireside chat with Vilakazi, moderated by Sive.
During the chat, Vilakazi shared that he sees Wits’ role as driving change, promoting inclusion and innovation, and shaking up and influencing politics.
“We need to put universities and academia at the center of policy making,” he said.
Young activists need to put pressure on the government to prioritize education and invest in research, Vilakazi said, as far as Africa is concerned, it’s a necessity, not a luxury.
A larger number of young people in Africa do not have access to education, he said. Because of this, Wits strives to empower graduates to have the agency to create jobs and social change, he said.
By welcoming students from diverse backgrounds, Wits is forging a new generation of South Africans, Vilakazi said, who can’t tackle problems with their narrow backgrounds, but rather by working together, finding commonalities rather than differences and appreciating each other’s talents.
“Democracy only survives when there are highly educated people who seek truth and question,” Vilakazi said.
Wits addresses the issues of both developing and developed countries, including two big issues for Africa: gender equality and migration, Vilakazi said, making an analogy with the world’s largest particle accelerator.
“I would call us the Large Hadron Collider of the social sciences,” he said.
Wits aims to produce graduates with scarce, high-level, globally competitive skills capable of addressing local social and economic challenges in Africa. Wits is known for his work in deep-level mining, science, health sciences, law, governance and humanities. The university offers about 3,600 courses to about 32,500 full-time students, 55% of whom are women and a third are postgraduates.
Launched in January 2021, Northeastern’s Africa Global Initiative seeks to increase the university’s presence in African countries through mutually reinforcing, existing and new research and academic partnerships with African institutions and stakeholders. AGI strives to expand enrollment of African students in programs in the Northeast and to raise awareness of and secure experience opportunities in Africa for Northeast students, graduates and researchers.
At least 22 African nations are represented in the Northeast student body. Countries that sent the most applications to the Northeast for Fall 2022 include Ghana, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and South Africa.
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