On October 14-15, 2011, South Africa hosted the 5th India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Academic Forum at the Durban University of Technology in Durban, South Africa.
This year, I, Khalid Jaleel, from the Department of Political Science, had the honor of representing India at the forum as the only student delegate.
Following is a report on what took place at the forum.
About IBSA Academic Forum
The IBSA Academic Forum is convened once every year to shape a program of engagement that draws on the best of higher education and research systems, of these three countries, to address some of the challenges faced by the societies of these three nations.
It represents an opportunity to build a framework of cooperation among academic communities of the three countries.
The idea of this initiative is to create a platform for students and their supervisors from all three countries to work together on a number of issues so as to build a cohort of scholars who understand the socioeconomic dynamics across India, Brazil and South Africa.
The objectives of this cooperation, as stated at the forum, include:
- Increased research collaboration between institutions, research groups and individuals across three countries.
- Increased postgraduate exchange and support among the three countries.
- Collaboration in the area of the development of the higher education sectors, in particular higher education policy, support systems development, intellectual property management, funding etc.
- Harvesting the joint intellectual capital of the three countries to apply themselves jointly to developing knowledge based solutions to global problems, and in particular problems of the South.
The outcome of this academic forum is then later presented – in the form of a formal statement – at the IBSA Summit of the Heads of State/Government.
IBSA Academic Forum 2011
This year, there were about a total of 50 delegates comprising of representatives from various think-tanks, ministries, student unions and a host of researchers and students from all three member countries.
The forum started with the welcome address by Professor Ahmed Bawa, the Vice-Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology; and by the Chairperson/Academic Champion of the forum, Professor Stephanie Gail Burton.
This was followed with a keynote address by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training of South Africa, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize.
In her address, Prof. Mkhize, stressed on the importance of education in development and the need for an increase in collaboration between IBSA countries in the field of scientific research.
“It is clear from the theme,” she said, “that our knowledge and research cannot be for its own sake, but for the development of our people. It has to enhance accountability for leaders and create wealth for all levels, and raise the culture of human rights and democratic values for future generations. We need to develop of our indigenous languages and elevate indigenous knowledge systems, ensuring that they are analysed and understood like any scientific text in the world.”
She also thanked “international democratic societies” in helping South Africa with its struggle in becoming a true democratic society.
“As South Africans we are and we will always be grateful to the international community because we are today enjoying our freedom and democracy due to their involvement in our struggle against Apartheid,” she stated.
The academic forum was divided into six sessions:
- Analyzing the IBSA platform:During this plenary session, papers were presented that talked about IBSA as a Science and Technology bloc, IBSA as an economic force in the world and IBSA as a development platform.Some of the prominent speakers in this session included, Mr. Dhesigen Naidoo, the CEO for the Water Research Commission of South Africa; Dr. Dorsamy Pillay, Vice President and Managing Director of the National Research Foundation of South Africa; and Professor Chris Landsberg, lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).
- The Inter-Academy Panel: The presidents of the national academies of sciences of the three countries deliberated on mechanisms of cooperation.
- The IBSA Universities and HEI-panel: Universities associations deliberated on a work-plan for the cooperation of the IBSA Higher Education Institutions.
- Knowledge Café: Researchers deliberated on current IBSA projects.
- Skills Training for Development: Deliberations on the increasing importance of quality vocationally oriented learning in meeting the chronic shortage of skilled personnel.
- IBSA Higher Education Students Buzz: HEI students from Brazil, India and South Africa deliberated on developing an IBSA cooperation mechanism for IBSA students.
At the conclusion of the Academic Forum a draft committee was created, comprising a few members of the forum from the three countries, who formulated a draft of a formal statement, listing recommendations, to be read at the IBSA summit of Heads of State/Government to be held on Oct. 18.
The initial draft listed the following recommendations:
- Institutional Issues:
- Representation of different stake-holders and especially government representatives in all academic forums so as to emphasize shared responsibilities and ownership of agendas and process to realize them.
- Governments need to earmark specific funds to support IBSA research projects. In this context, measures to mobilize such funds should be more concretely defined.
- Database – the need to document and publicize on all research outcomes, partners, challenges and learning so as to provide continuity to the process of deliberations and work on them.
- Periodic reviews and monitoring mechanisms must be activated so as to keep checks on the process.
- Coordination of the different working groups and forums especially in terms of the setting up of agendas for subsequent academic forums.
- Websites and online spaces for discussion and follow-up around identified areas of interest.
- Representation of research funding institutions.
- Role of the host organization in mobilizing student unions and other representative constituencies before the fora towards better representation of local issues and their linkages with common issues. This could make for more visibility of IBSA and raise awareness amongst general public.
- Focus/Interconnected Issues
- Need of a more coherent conceptual framework that informs the priority agendas for the academia for generating knowledge-based solutions to challenges faced by the IBSA countries.
- Bringing Natural and Social sciences together to deal with complex social problems requiring interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches.
- Student Participation
- The academic forum recommends focused involvement of students and youth in the deliberations towards identification of issues for future research, strategies for collective youth action, participation in cultural and academic events through student exchange programs and student conferences. Finances may be separately dedicated to facilitate student exchanges and student movement across the three countries.
After the presentation of the initial draft by the draft committee, individual points were discussed and critiqued upon. The chairperson, Prof. Burton, made a note of everybody’s criticisms and suggestions and took it upon herself to formulate the final draft, which she, as the chairperson for the forum, had to present to the Heads of State/Government at the Summit on Oct. 18.
With that, the two-day 5th IBSA Academic Forum came to a close.
[You can read the final draft that was presented at the summit of Heads of State/Government here: Recommendations – IBSA Academic Forum 2011]
Views on the IBSA Academic Forum by Delegates
Professor Ahmed Bawa, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa:
It is always a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the fraternal relationship of these three nations and the connections that exist between them at the levels of global politics, global trade, intellectual exploits and perhaps most importantly at the level of humanity – sharing as we do the same values and passions for social justice and human rights. The IBSA Protocols do indeed represent a very powerful imagination – one that seeks the best of us all as we gaze upon a secure future at a time when the present is so insecure.
Francisco Filho, Communications Officer, International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Brasilia, Brazil:
The IBSA Academic Forum represents a unique opportunity to bring together public intellectuals from the three countries to strengthen collaboration around pressing developing issues. IBSA is a platform for international cooperation that can help our countries address a very intriguing challenge of our current times: the need of a new, revamped knowledge framework that is built by our developing countries to respond to the development imperatives faced by our populations.
Dr. Nishi Mitra, Associate Professor, Center for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India:
The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Forum is a wonderful opportunity for academics to redefine agendas and methodologies of doing cross culturally useful research that addresses the contemporary social, economic and development concerns of these countries representing the south-south cooperation. Especially, since the universities in these countries are increasingly realizing their mandate in terms of working towards addressing complex issues of our societies such as poverty, unemployment, corruption, widespread illiteracy and power differentials that complicate our multicultural context .We keep looking towards the west, but there is much to learn from each other.
In my opinion, what makes the IBSA Dialogue Forum significant is not the coming together of developing countries with the aim of cooperation, or to “synergize,” to use the jargon from the conference.
The real significance, however, lies in the recognition of a changing reality in the area of international relations. IBSA signifies the shift in the center of gravity in world politics. A new era in the field of international politics is upon us. In this post-cold war era, the North is no longer the center of international activity. It can no longer dictate the terms of international cooperation to the South.
The South, represented by the emerging economic and political global powers like India, Brazil, South Africa and China, have started to take control of their own destiny and no longer have to entirely rely on the international institutions setup by the developed countries of the North.
The countries of the Southern hemisphere are coming together to form their own agenda for international cooperation, without the help, or should I say, without the meddling hands of the North.
Even though IBSA comprises of only three countries from the developing world, its significance is on the level of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). The only time the developing world has taken an independent stand in the international arena, before IBSA, was during the cold war in the form of NAM.
During the two-day long conference, an apparent sense of confidence could easily be seen in the interactions between the delegates from all three countries. The importance of the moment was not lost on anyone of us. Delegate after delegate pointed out the fact that IBSA was different from all other previous collaborations. These three countries have come together before in different international forums, like BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), but IBSA is entirely a collaboration between the countries of the South.
IBSA has a lot of potential as a trilateral collaboration to influence the international agenda, as they already have at the United Nations and at the World Trade Organization.
It is imperative for these three countries to further strengthen their ties and champion the interests of the South on the world stage.
[Also read about the author’s personal experiences of South Africa here: “Waka Waka – This Time for Africa”]