How universities can help address socio-economic challenges in South Africa

South African communities are beset by numerous problems that range from a lack of jobs to failing infrastructure. Some solutions could potentially be found if local universities were to play a greater socio-economic role in their neighbourhoods – a concept known as anchor institutions. For those interested in exploring this topic, local and international development experts will discuss anchor institutions in a zoom webinar on Tuesday 5 July from 15h00-17h00.

How universities can help address socio-economic challenges in South Africa

The webinar will focus on recent research by Dr Samuel Fongwa, senior research specialist in the Inclusive Economic Development Division of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The  title of Dr Fongwa’s paper is  "Universities as anchor institutions: What implications for South African universities?” 

Dr Fongwa, whose cross-disciplinary research expertise includes higher education and development studies, has prepared the paper on behalf of non-profit organisation Inyathelo, and the US-SA Higher Education Network. The Network is a coalition of universities, foundations and government agencies dedicated to strengthening ties among higher education institutions.

Key respondents will be Professor Leslie Bank and Professor Nico Cloete. Professor Bank is the strategic lead on livelihoods and education in the Inclusive Economic Development Division of the HSRC. He also holds adjunct positions at Walter Sisulu University and the University of Fort Hare, and has an interest in higher education and city-campus innovation districts. Professor Cloete is based at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology(CREST) at the University of Stellenbosch. He specialises in higher education studies and is coordinator of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa (HERANA). 

Inyathelo executive director Nazeema Mohamed says, “The objective of the webinar is to launch the concept paper and interrogate the idea of anchor institutions. The target audience for this important discussion is broad – academics, non-profits, corporate social investment organisations and government, especially those collaborating with universities to develop the communities around them.”

Sources quoted in Dr Fongwa’s working paper show that the concept of anchor institutions has its roots in the structure of the American economy from the 1960s onwards. In the absence of services in urban and rural settings and across communities, cities, towns and villages, institutions emerged as anchors of their communities to provide stability, growth and development. 

The notion of universities as anchor institutions gained traction in the US higher education system in the 2000s. It presented an innovative way of thinking about the role that universities could play in addressing societal problems and in building a more democratic, just and equitable society.

“Some South African university faculties, departments and individuals are already engaged with communities, but much more could be achieved if clearly defined goals are put in place and there is greater coordination with a network of partners and stakeholders. Universities are home to so much knowledge and expertise, and we hope this webinar will help unlock some of that potential in order to address the many problems besetting our communities,” said Ms Mohamed.

Webinar details:

Date: Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Zoom link for advance registration: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0oce2uqj4jHNPWp5GzbXb50qOaNS5drz7d