SENCER E-Newsletter, March 2005, Volume 4, Issue 7
SENCER Unites with African Universities Responding to HIV/AIDS: A Report from South Africa
By: Sherryl Broverman, Duke University
The general meeting of the Association of African Universities (AAU) was held this February in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa. Debra Meyer (University of Johannesburg) and I were invited by Alice Lamptey of the AAU to represent SENCER during a parallel session on "African Universities Responding to HIV/AIDS." The theme of this year's AAU meeting was "Cross-border Provision and the Future of Higher Education in Africa," a theme highly relevant to SENCER's goal of expanding our connections to African institutions and developing an independent "SENCER-Africa" program. There were several sessions on strategies for ensuring that organizations offering educational experiences in other countries provide the same high quality education that they would provide in their own country. A major concern of the meeting revolved around the new listing of education under "goods and services" by the WTO, allowing countries to now trade education as a commodity like any other and subject it to tariffs and subsidies. This was widely seen as likely to hurt developing countries and was labeled "educational re-colonization" during one talk.
The parallel session on HIV/AIDS began with several talks highlighting the range of responses to the epidemic taken by African universities. A general conclusion of the session was that universities needed to develop better institutional policies for dealing with how HIV/AIDS is affecting their communities, both on campus and in surrounding areas.
There was also a general call for clearer lines of communication for sharing information and research results, both regionally and across the continent. Secrecy and stigma were still identified as significant hindrances to openly confronting HIV/AIDS on campus. Few universities had created academic programs (as compared to human resources programs) on HIV/AIDS, unlike Egerton University in Kenya, which has a highly successful core course on HIV/AIDS developed by their SENCER team.
These earlier talks set the stage for the SENCER presentation "Uniting SENCER and the AAU to Mainstream HIV Education and Develop Centers for Excellence in Teaching Science". Debra and I outlined SENCER's goals, as well as its track record of accomplishment, and its planned future activities in Africa. Of particular interest to attendees was SENCER's emphasis on community engagement, encouragement of constructivist learning, and rigorous assessment. Many faculty inquired about applications to this year's SSI and we hope to see many new friends and colleagues there. This widening of participation across Africa will bring new ideas to the SENCER leadership about how to best implement SENCER in Africa, and provide new colleagues for future collaborations. If you are interested in linking your work and teaching with an African university, please let us know so we can play matchmaker this summer! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After the meeting's conclusion I returned to Johannesburg with Debra where I gave several talks on the "Origin of HIV," modeling how one forms and tests hypotheses and encouraging students to participate during a lecture. Fortunately, I could give all my talks in English, unlike Debra who has to give each lecture twice, once in English and once in Afrikaans, (Remember this next time you complain about your teaching load!) We also gave out a survey to students to determine how common it was for students to talk about HIV/AIDS, and if so, with whom they felt most comfortable talking with. Over half of all students surveyed indicated they had talked to someone about HIV/AIDS once or not at all in the last month, that when they did talk about HIV/AIDS it was most likely to be with another student, but that they had little confidence in whether the person they spoke to had accurate information. There was great interest in having an academic course on HIV/AIDS where students could discuss difficult issues and be sure of receiving correct answers.
Besides the fascinating meeting talks, there were two other highlights on this trip. One was having President Thabo Mbeki address us and talk about how he was trained to be an "educated native" that couldn't belong completely to either African or European culture. His speech called for the development of a true African intelligentsia that would work to liberate the continent. On a less rarified note, the second highlight of the trip was the myriad natural wonders of Cape Town. I was fortunate to visit a wild penguin colony, which looked completely incongruous to me on a hot sandy beach with nearby surfers, and the glorious Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens that showcase plants that evolved 200 million years ago when Africa was still part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland. Besides my personal joy in penguins and proteids, this trip created a higher profile for SENCER among African universities and international education agencies, and should lead to an expanded African involvement at the SSI this August.