Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University, has met with Mzuvukile Jeff Maketuka, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of South Africa to the Russian Federation, and representatives of Nelson Mandela University in an online format.

St Petersburg University has 13 academic programmes related to African Studies. These include the bachelor’s programme ‘West African Languages and Cultures’, the master’s programmes ‘Languages and Culture of Africa’, and ‘Politics and International Relations in Asia and Africa’ to name just a few.

Addressing the distinguished guest, the Rector of St Petersburg University noted that, to date, cooperation between St Petersburg University and the universities of the Republic of South Africa has not been very intensive. The last agreement between St Petersburg University and the University of Venda expired in 2020. Over the past five years, researchers from St Petersburg University and universities in South Africa have published 275 joint publications. Their citation index is quite high. On average, it stays at 2.4 and reaches 10 with the University of Pretoria. However, in the opinion of the Rector of St Petersburg University, closer cooperation should be sought. ‘We are interested in expanding the range of areas of cooperation, increasing the number of joint events, scientific publications and increasing the intensity of student exchanges,’ Nikolay Kropachev pointed out.

During the meeting, the Rector of St Petersburg University and the South African Ambassador discussed the possibility of a cooperation agreement between the University and the Ministry of Education as well as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa. Due to its special status, St Petersburg University has the right to conclude direct agreements with ministries of other countries.

Our experience shows that after signing such documents, the University has seen an increase in: academic programmes dedicated to these countries; inter-university exchanges; and the number of international students.
Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University

‘Concluding cooperation agreements not only with universities but also with ministries in your country is therefore of great interest to us,’ said Nikolay Kropachev.

The Rector of St Petersburg University also offered the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of South Africa to chair the Board of one of the University’s academic programmes. Mzuvukile Jeff Maketuka expressed his gratitude and said that the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa in Moscow would provide a formal response in the near future. Additionally, he agreed to deliver a lecture to the students of the University.

The representatives of Nelson Mandela University took part in an online meeting to discuss possible actions to strengthen research and academic cooperation with universities in the Republic of South Africa. In particular, the issue of opening a representative office of St Petersburg University in the partner university was raised during the negotiations.

Thandi Mgwebi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Internationalisation at Nelson Mandela University, said that Nikolay Kropachev’s initiative seems relevant and significant. So, together with her colleagues, she will make every effort to implement this project. To date, St Petersburg University has offices in the Republic of Korea, the People’s Republic of China, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Italy.

Our university is the only one named after Nelson Mandela. We aim to serve society and therefore look forward to working closely with Russian universities, above all St Petersburg University.
Thandi Mgwebi, Nelson Mandela University Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Internationalisation

The participants of the meeting identified the most interesting topics for further interaction. Oswald Franks, Project Manager at Nelson Mandela University, suggested focusing on such scientific areas as oceanology, marine research, environmental security, and ecological economics. Vladislav Gurzhiy, Associate Professor in the Department of Crystallography at St Petersburg University, emphasised that the University’s students and staff were no less interested in these topics and were ready to participate in joint international expeditions. In turn, Konstantin Amelin, Director of the Science Educational Centre ‘Mathematical Robotics and Artificial Intelligence’, presented the results of the University research activities in the areas of big data processing, artificial intelligence, practical and educational robotics. According to him, any of these areas can be implemented in joint interdisciplinary projects.

Derrick Swartz, Adviser on Strategic Projects in Ocean Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, also spoke at the online meeting. He stressed the need for universities to join forces in the fight against global warming, ecosystem pollution and technological disasters.

We must direct our joint work towards preserving the planet and finding solutions to a large number of social and environmental problems. The interdisciplinary approach adopted by both universities can contribute to this.
Derrick Swart, Adviser on Strategic Projects in Ocean Sciences at Nelson Mandela University

Other topics covered during the talk included: the opening of the Russian as a Foreign Language Testing Centre at Nelson Mandela University; Open Days in both universities; and the involvement of Russian and South African international companies in joint work with universities.

At the end of the conversation, Thandi Mgwebi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Internationalisation at Nelson Mandela University, suggested that the discussion could be a starting point for future cooperation between the two universities. At the end of the meeting, the two sides decided to exchange lists of potential areas of cooperation and official documents with proposals.