South Africa-Japanese Universities Forum 5 conference echoes mutual trust in collaboration for the common good

Published On: 28 July 2022|

The opening session of the virtual South Africa-Japanese Universities (SAJU) Forum 5 Conference, yesterday, featured keynote lectures on the two countries’ perspectives towards open academic cooperation with trust.

On behalf of Universities South Africa (USAf), Professor Sibongile Muthwa (right), the USAf Chairperson and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Nelson Mandela University, referred to UNESCO’s 2021 global call to reimagine the future together by engineering a new social contract for education.

Recognising the threats confronting humanity and Planet Earth, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, through The International Commission on the Futures of Education[1], galvanised global societies and experts to participate in debates to rethink and re-shape education in the context of increasing complexity, uncertainty, and fragility.

Professor Muthwa also referenced three themes identified by Blessinger et al (2022) as being necessary for the attainment of the re-imagined education of the future, and summarised those as:

  • The need to develop interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge and teaching, learning and research;
  • the need for fully open and accessible universities by focussing on diversity, equity, inclusion and humanistic values; and
  • the need to take a more active role in society by partnering with other institutions.

She said SAJU provided an appropriate platform for such considerations to take place between South African and Japanese scholars, further emphasising that “the content, shape and messaging of what we teach requires re-examination.” To that end, Professor Muthwa drew attention to:

  • Collaborative research, which must be informed by mutual commitment to “respond to the pressing challenges facing the communities in which we are located, while also responding to challenges facing the interconnected global community.”  She said higher education must “excavate community knowledges and untapped archives that exist beyond a university, while sharpening our capacity to create collaborative and open platforms of learning and teaching.”
  • Inclusive engagement of institutional stakeholders beyond the traditional students, academics, funders and regulators – recognising additional stakeholders wish to influence how universities are operated and governed, commensurate with their contributions, expectations and interests — universities must primarily serve. She implored scholars from the two countries to collaborate with intent to enhance sustainability while fulfilling the mandate to mould “responsible academic citizenry while addressing social justice and equity.”
  • Shared-values-driven leadership that looks beyond the basic principles driving day to day operations of universities to include respect for diversity, excellence, social justice and equality, and, ultimately, instil trust in staff, students and all stakeholders.

Japan’s keynote lecture was led by Professor Motoko Kotani (left), Science and Technology Co-Advisor to Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who started by explaining that her portfolio had been established to, among other functions, support the activities of Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister from the Science and Technology (S&T) perspective, and to reinforce networking among Science and Technology advisors, scientists and academics for enhanced international relations, overall.

She said similarly to advancing the agenda of the 2019 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) 7 conference, whose theme was Africa-Japan cooperation, it was fitting that SAJU Forum 5 was taking place ahead of TICAD 8, destined for Tunisia in August 2022. She said recommendations emerging from this SAJU 5 meeting would feed into the TICAD 8 agenda.

Professor Motoko Kotani recalled a recommendation presented to TICAD in 2016, to enrich Africa through the use of Science, Technology and Innovation. To that end, Japan would strengthen the collaboration with Africa through mutual understanding, seeking to enhance S&T standards through human resources development under the banner From Brain drain to Brain circulation, and disseminate information on the outcomes of this programme under the theme Enriching people’s lives with Science and Technology.

In 2019, TICAD 8 re-committed to working with Africa to achieve an innovation ecosystem, in accordance with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Science and Technology Innovation programme, the Japanese Government’s Science and Technology Research Partnerships for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) and Society 5.0, which is Japan’s vision for asuper-smart society where technologies such as big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI), and robots fuse into every industry and across all demographics of society.

Recognising that 2022 marked the 30th year of South Africa-Japan collaboration, Professor Motoko Kotani went on to showcase the extent of reach realised through the Japanese Government scholarships since 1993, the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme since 1997, and the JICA programme, started in 1993 to support the implementation of projects formulated by Japanese NGOs, local government structures and universities towards utilising their accumulated knowledge in helping to advance developing countries.

Recent and ongoing support programmes include:

  • Support for transitioning from conventional plastics to more environmentally sustainable alternatives
  • Development of a carbon recycling system towards a decarbonised society by using mineral carbonation
  • Capacity development of pilot TVET colleges for artisanry and
  • Promotion of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and Disability Mainstreaming.

Professor Motoko Kotani mentioned that the Agreement for Science and Technology Cooperation, signed between Japan and South Africa in 2003, was the only such pact made with a sub-Saharan Africa country to date. To aid the implementation of this agreement, supportive agreements have since been signed with the National Research Foundation. The first meeting to share information on developments within collaborative initiatives was held in Tokyo, in 2008, followed by one in Pretoria, South Africa, in January 2020. The next meeting, coming up in October, would be held in Tokyo, on a date to be determined.

Going forward, priorities in Japan’s Assistance Policy for South Africa include enhancement of human capacity including expansion of mutual cooperation in science and technology; promotion of infrastructure development; support to the socially vulnerable to enable their participation in the economy and in society, as well as promotion of development of the southern Africa region.

According to Professor Motoko Kotani, South Africa and Japan will continue to co-create a sustainable future, if they continue to:

  • Respect cooperation and trust that the two countries have cultivated over the years, and continue to conduct fair research, respecting mutually determined rules of engagement
  • Promote cross-disciplinary and cross-border human resources circulation for better research project making and mutual understanding; and
  • Enhance efforts for human resources development including pure basic science through open academic cooperation.

A mathematician by profession, Professor Motoko Kotani said she was impressed to see the level of interest in mathematics, and the motivation and eagerness displayed by African students to learn mathematics, science and technology through the African Institution for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). AIMS was established as a human resources development initiative in 2003. To date, AIMS runs centres in six countries including South Africa, with intent to expand by nine more centres by 2023.  AIMS wishes to bring out “the next Einsteins” out of Africa. It serves as a hub for international education and research in mathematics and brings together excellent teachers and students from all over the continent.

The virtual SAJU Forum 5 conference was officially opened by Japan’s Ambassador to South Africa, His Excellency, Mr Norio Maruyama, alongside his counterpart, South Africa’s Ambassador to Japan, His Excellency Mr Smuts Ngonyama.

Yesterday’s opening session was attended by 97 delegates representing policy makers from the two countries and academics from Japanese and South Africa’s universities.

Day one saw the delegates breaking into three breakaway sessions to listen to scholarly presentations on ongoing collaborative research. The papers are based on three broad themes of: Health and WellnessSecurity and Social Justiceand Growth, Exploration and Conservation. 

Up to 260 delegates are registered to attend the virtual SAJU Forum 5 conference that continues, and winds up, today.

‘Mateboho Green is Universities South Africa’s Manager: Corporate Communication.

[1] UNESCO, 2021. Reimagining our Futures Together. A new social contract for education. Report from the International Commission on the Futures of Education. Available at: