28 May 2024 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Nelia Oosthuizen
The conference also provided each consortium university with the opportunity to showcase and celebrate their strengths and achievements in the project. This was done through an interactive drumming session that added to the celebratory nature of the event.

The Office for International Affairs at the University of the Free State (UFS) recently hosted the iKudu closing conference, celebrating the past five years of achievements of the iKudu project, as well as the start of the future iKudu network.

Welcoming delegates to the international gathering of ten consortium universities, external advisers, and the core project working groups, was Prof Vasu Reddy, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation. He said that collaboration is key to internationalisation, as it is evident from international gatherings like this, showcasing how higher education can break silos between institutions and people.

He remarked, “At this closing conference, closing is not about closure; it is also a space to reflect, to think deeply about not only the past and the present, but also the future of this initiative. The project was carefully designed to develop a South African concept of internationalisation of the curriculum, which integrates collaborative online international learning (COIL) as a tool within the discourse of transformation and decolonisation. Transformation is not a tick-box exercise, but a continuing, unfinished business.”

Inclusive internationalisation

Prof Reddy believes key to this project is the concept of inclusive internationalisation. He is of the opinion that it is fundamentally about recognition, providing staff and students the opportunity to develop international intercultural competencies by engaging with students and colleagues from abroad on their home campuses. Students who are differently abled, in a disadvantaged financial position, or located in geographically diverse areas, are not excluded. “In a project like this, one would have found capacity building, deep synergies, and connections across diverse spaces. Our synergies often override major differences,” he said.

According to Prof Reddy, this project has much do to with a sense of belonging. “In many ways it is about celebrating different ways of being and knowing,” he commented.

Referring to the journey of the past five years starting in 2019, he commented on the parties involved who steered this project, acknowledging the changes they made to see it through. “You as consortium members have shown resilience and a deep commitment to succeed. What you promised, you delivered, and in many ways probably exceeded these milestones.” He expressed his appreciation not only for the commitment and dedication but also for those who were forward thinking.

A highlight of this conference was the symbolic journey through the different stages of the project. Delegates walked together through the timeline, beginning in 2019 and culminating in the recent closing conference. Milestones included overcoming the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic; engaging in round-table discussions on decolonisation of the curriculum; reconceptualising key concepts based on the understanding of South-North collaboration, including transformation and internationalisation of the curriculum; developing considerations for guidelines on internationalisation of the curriculum; discussing shared virtual collaborative curriculum practices; and refining the internationalisation strategies.

In the discussions that followed, the focus was on preserving and intensifying the relationship between individuals and consortium universities that had been created over the past five years. Attendees also actively collaborated on plans for the iKudu universities to continue working together and to become a network that impacts beyond the project.

Participants engaged in short, to-the-point presentations titled ‘Where did it begin?’, ‘Becoming COILers through COILing’, ‘I am because we are’, ‘How to internationalise the curriculum’, ‘What does COIL look like’, ‘Spreading the word’, ‘Listening to students, ‘Putting the IoC and COIL together’, and ‘Making the project work’.

Established networks and interconnectedness

One notable aspect of the project lies in the community of practice within the iKudu consortium. During the discussion of 'I am because we are', Valeria Baloyi (Univen) and Alun de Winter (Coventry University) emphasised the ancient African concept of ubuntu, which underscores the interdependence of humanity. They highlighted that humans rely on connections, community, and mutual care; our existence is inherently tied to one another. They said, "I am because we are," illustrating how this concept resonates within the iKudu consortium through established networks and interconnectedness. The Southern context, and the philosophy of ubuntu in the project has perpetuated inclusivity, equality, and demystified patriarchal systems in knowledge production and bearing. COIL promotes global citizenship among practitioners and students. In the Northern context, while ubuntu may not be widely known, it intersects with principles of equality, diversity, collaboration, global citizenship, environmental sustainability, and social justice, fostering cohesion between humans and nature.

Prof Alessandra Viviani (University of Siena) and Prof Lynette Jacobs, Acting Head of the Office for International Affairs at the UFS and conference convener, delivered another thought-provoking presentation titled ‘Internationalisation of the Curriculum: Why and how?’ Particularly noteworthy was the emphasis on inclusivity, reflecting a core aspect of the project. According to Prof Jacobs, an important aspect of this project is for students to appreciate themselves and feel that they are as much part of the world and belong as others. She said, “In curricula, students need to get the opportunity to understand that diverse perspectives and knowledge exist; become aware of cultural biases and how these are shaped; and get the opportunities to critically engage with different knowledge systems and what they are based on.”

Achieving personal and professional milestones

At the gala dinner, Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Vice-Chancellor and Principal, addressed delegates. He attended the first iKudu meeting five years ago, as well as the most recent one, reflecting on the remarkable journey. He commended the delegates for the collaboration that underpinned the iKudu journey. “COIL gives us the opportunity to potentially engage all students in international collaboration,” he said.

Prof Petersen also congratulated the delegates for their determination to make a success of this initiative, especially during a very challenging time, and praised the passion that the project exuded – a passion that he believes was integral to its success. He also expressed his excitement about building on what has been achieved through the iKudu network.

Chevon Slambee, responsible for Strategic Projects and Virtual Engagement and the iKudu Project Manager in the Office for International Affairs, also shared insights with delegates at the gala event. Reflecting on the symbolism of the kudu, she highlighted its spiralling massive horns as a representation of strength and power, likening it to the project's ability to navigate challenges. Slambee celebrated the project's resilience and surpassed goals, achieving 57 COIL projects.

She then emphasised the kudu's eyes and large ears, illustrating the project's appreciative enquiry approach. This method allowed recognition of local strengths and the creation of a space valuing all universities. Lastly, she drew parallels to the kudu's long legs, symbolising agility and strength in distress. She noted the project's significant progress, both in meeting deliverables and personal growth. “Looking at where we started and where we are now, we have made massive leaps and bounds in terms of not only meeting our project deliverables, but also achieving personal and professional milestones,” she said. In conclusion, she added, “Through this project, I no longer focus on the challenges on the continent, but I appreciate that we have a valuable and essential contribution to make in the world.”

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