A big day in Pretoria
There’s big, and then there’s Africa.
But don’t take my word for it.
Fittingly, size has, in large part (no pun intended) driven many of the conversations over the past two days of meetings — both yesterday at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg and today at GIBS’ parent institution, the University of Pretoria, which Indiana University has had a relationship with for more than a decade.
Similar in size and scope to IU’s Bloomington campus, UP, with about 45,000 students — not counting another 18,000 or so enrolled in its distance education programs — is one of the largest suppliers of high-level skills to the African economy, addressing the nation’s growing need for graduates in teaching and technology, science and engineering, and several other key development areas. In addition, its business school is thriving, as members of the IU delegation learned yesterday. In just over a decade, GIBS has risen to become Africa’s top training ground for executives and entrepreneurs.
Still, UP knows it has room to grow, which is why it has launched a major strategic initiative — UP 2025 — designed to position the university as the leading “research-intensive” university in Africa and elevate its stature in the larger global marketplace. It’s also what makes UP a sound strategic partner for IU, which possesses a bounty of teaching, learning and research resources that both complement UP’s mission and suggest strong potential for global growth opportunities for students back home in Indiana.
As IU President Michael A. McRobbie repeatedly stressed during a daylong series of meetings at Pretoria, IU has been cornering the market for years in the teaching of African languages — to the remarkable tune of 50 to 60 African languages in recent years. Those languages include everything from Akan, which is spoken mainly in Ghana and also in the Ivory Coast (where it is referred to as Abron), to Zulu, which is spoken in South Africa but can also be understood by people in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.
McRobbie was also keen to note that IU provides instruction in seven of South Africa’s 11 official languages (and eight of 11 if you count English). Upon hearing about IU’s language prowess, and after learning about the university’s considerable information technology resources, Irma Eloff, dean of the faculty of education at UP, nearly leapt from her seat. “IT and languages, I’m impressed!” Eloff said, eliciting hearty laughter from her Hoosier guests. Eloff then turned serious as she surveyed the emerging African markets that UP seeks to better serve. “We simply cannot have a country where there are so many different languages spoken but where we cannot provide anyone to teach those languages.”
When the topic of discussion transitioned off languages and into the areas of economics, health sciences, the humanities and informatics, McRobbie’s message was almost always the same: IU has considerable talent, tools and resources to engage in strategic collaborations that provide students with an international dimension to their education. That international dimension is essential, he continued, to students’ success in today’s 21st-century global marketplace.
The day concluded with two important meetings. First, McRobbie and IU Vice President David Zaret spearheaded a productive discussion with South Africa Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, who was visibly impressed upon hearing about IU’s long history of engagement in Africa. The discussion centered around opportunities for educational collaboration in South Africa in such areas as language studies and the health sciences and the possibility of IU hosting master’s and doctoral students from South Africa.
Finally, members of the IU delegation returned to UP to meet with university President Cheryl de la Rey, who, after a lengthy and focused discussion, suggested a number of logical possible partnerships between UP and IU, including in areas that both universities have sizable strengths: education, law, the health sciences and the humanities.
It was a fitting end to a big day that promised big possibilities ahead for IU on the African horizon.