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Published: 2023-04-24

Global challenges in focus at Swedish-South African research and innovation week

NEWS How can Swedish and South African researchers jointly contribute to meeting the global challenges the world is facing? And how can students from both countries participate in the work on internationalization? These were some of the things that were discussed during the SASUF Research and Innovation Week in South Africa where Umeå University participated together with 39 other Swedish and South African universities.

Text: Jessica Bergström Grahn

The Research and Innovation Week is part of the STINT-funded project SASUF, South Africa Sweden University Forum, with the aim of strengthening the cooperation between the two countries in research, education and innovation. Participants included researchers, teachers, students and representatives of university management from SASUF's 26 South African and 14 Swedish higher education institutions, as well as research funders. The program contained seminars and workshops within six themes, all linked to the UN's sustainability goals. 14 people from Umeå University participated.

- SASUF is an important forum for discussing joint solutions to global challenges in both countries, says Vice-Chancellor Hans Adolfsson. All South African universities in the country are involved in the project. The fact that they gather under the same umbrella is unique and shows that there is a great interest in international cooperation.

Over 500 participants from South Africa and Sweden

The Research and Innovation Week was divided into two parts: scientific workshops and seminars that took place in 12 different cities across South Africa over two days, and the Sustainability Forum hosted by the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town over three days. In parallel with the research workshops, seminars and poster exhibition, a special program for Vice-Chancellors from South Africa and Sweden and a student summit with representatives from Swedish and South African universities also took place. In total, over 500 people from South Africa and Sweden participated in the Sustainability Forum. Representatives of the university management also visited the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria and Swedish Ambassador Håkan Juholt - who also participated in the Research and Innovation Week.

Global cooperation important for sustainability perspective

One of those who participated from Umeå University is Karin Sporre, professor of pedagogical work. She has long had a research collaboration with Heila Lotz-Sistika, professor at Rhodes University, on ethics and education from a sustainability perspective. During the research and innovation week, together with colleagues, they had the opportunity to hold two workshops where they presented and discussed children's and young people's commitment to sustainability and hope, as a driving force for developing preschools, schools and teacher training.

- The SASUF week has given me a lot, says Karin. Many fun meetings with people working on other research problems that relate to the important contemporary issues of climate and sustainability.

Karin Sporre describes that it has been important to have partners outside the Euro-American academic sphere and that this means that global perspectives, which are important not least from a sustainability perspective today, can become a more obvious part of research and postgraduate education.

- Not least the differences in the school and educational society in our respective countries give us new experiences and knowledge that make us understand our own contexts even better, says Sporre about the collaboration.

Students' involvement in internationalization important

Within the SASUF 2030 project, students' participation has been identified as particularly important. On site in South Africa were representatives from most of the participating universities. From Umeå University, Alba Puigefabregas Sieso, a student on the bachelor's programme in Life Science, participated. Together with the other student representatives, she participated in and arranged several seminars during the week, for example one focusing on student inclusion in internationalisation.

- It has been a fantastic experience. We have had a tight schedule this week. We have covered several different topics, learned new perspectives on global issues and come up with new ideas, says Alba. The student network in SASUF wants to be a platform to connect researchers with students and promote innovative collaborations.

The students' participation seems to have made an impression on the principals. Umeå University's rector Hans Adolfsson states that there are a great many students who have participated during the week, which shows that there is a future for SASUF.

- Students are a natural partner to have along, says Hans Adolfsson, and sends an invitation to Umeå's students to get more involved!

SASUF Research and innovation week in Sweden 2024

For Umeå University, the SASUF project has so far resulted in several good examples of collaborations with various South African universities. It involves collaborations in areas such as public health, ecology, computer science, architecture and educational science.

- SASUF means a lot to the cooperation between Sweden and South Africa and to Umeå University. It contributes to good contacts with the South African universities, but also with other Swedish universities in the project. We look forward to continuing the collaborations that are already underway and are confident that new ones will be started, says Hans Adolfsson.

The SASUF project runs until 2024. Next year, Sweden will host the research and innovation week, which will be arranged in Lund, Alnarp and Malmö on 13-17 May.

A call for seed funds for new collaborations between South Africa and Sweden is now open. The application deadline is April 28, 2023.

About SASUF

South Africa Sweden University Forum, SASUF, is a collaborative project between universities, authorities and organizations in Sweden and South Africa. The goal is to strengthen collaborations in research, education and innovation between the countries. The project is financed by STINT, the foundation for the internationalization of higher education and research, and the 40 participating universities.

The collaboration started in 2017 and continues until 2024. To date, 70 international projects have been started, all with a connection to the UN's sustainable development goals. The collaboration has also brought together roughly 3,000 researchers, teachers and representatives of university management in seminars and workshops.

On Umeå University's website about SASUF, there is information on how you as a researcher or student can get involved.

Umeå University delegation to SASUF Research & Innovation Week

Hans Adolfsson, Vice-Chancellor
James Benedict Brown, Associate professor at Umeå School of Architecture
Ronnie Berntsson, Associate professor at Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, representing Young Academy of Sweden
Jessica Bergström Grahn, local SASUF coordinator at the International Office
Julia C Carrillo Ocampo, Doctoral student at Department of Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science
Christiane Funk, Professor at Department of Chemistry
Natuschka Lee, Researcher in microbiological geoecology and astrobiology
Anne Ouma, Department of Epidemiology and Global Health
Alba Puigefabregas Sieso, Student in Life Science
Mouna Rafei, Doctoral student at Department of Physics
Karin Sporre, Professor at the Department of Applied Educational Science
Ingrid Svensson, Head of International Office
Siyang Wang, Assistant professor at Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics
Xiuyu Wu, Doctoral student at Department of Physics