The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe, was awarded an honorary doctorate (doctor honoris causa) by the University of Montpellier at a special ceremony in Montpellier, France, on Thursday, 7 October.
This is Prof Kupe’s second honorary doctorate, following one awarded to him by Michigan State University in December 2019. The University of Montpellier conferred this PhD on Prof Kupe for his work in “building academic partnerships across the African continent and the globe, and for his leadership in transformation of higher education at a global level”. The Vice-Chancellor and Principal was also hailed for being a visionary leader.
“Under his leadership, the University of Pretoria is committed to educating students to be socially responsible, active citizens and leaders working for positive change,” a representative of the University of Montpellier said. “He has used the opportunity provided by the COVID-19 pandemic to disrupt the world as we knew it by finding innovative ways to address poverty, unemployment and inequality, and strive for social justice. Almost 30 000 UP students are directly involved in community projects as part of their annual curriculum.”
Honorary doctorates were also awarded to specialist paediatrician Dr Chipepo Kankasa of Zambia and Dr Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It is an immense privilege to receive this honour from one of the most innovative higher education institutions in the world, built over eight centuries of academic and scientific tradition, and leading the future through its pioneering research,” Prof Kupe said.
“I would like to express my deep gratitude for this recognition, which I accept not only personally, but on behalf of the University of Pretoria, universities in Africa and indeed the people of Africa. “I would also like to warmly congratulate Dr Kankasa and Dr Mukwege, and thank you for your outstanding examples in modelling the very essence of service-driven leadership in action.”
Prof Kupe further hailed the University of Montpellier and the broader Montpellier Université d’Excellence (MUSE) consortium (of which the University of Montpellier is a core member) for their commitment to helping Africa reach its potential, adding that he hopes that the relationship that UP has with the French will continue to grow from strength to strength. This relationship, Prof Kupe said, was cemented after the University hosted France’s President Emmanuel Macron in May this year.
The MUSE project gathers the forces of 19 institutions towards a common ambition: to create a thematic research-intensive university that will be internationally recognised for its impact in the fields of agriculture, environment and health. The University of Montpellier strives to act as the academic partner that all its consortium members can establish strong ties with. In 2018, MUSE and UP signed a memorandum of understanding at UP’s Future Africa Institute.
Since then, the partnership has flourished, particularly in the areas of sustainable food systems (agriculture-food value chain), climate, land and biodiversity. UP was the first university in Africa to become a core partner of MUSE, joining a by-invitation-only group of prominent global members. In 2019, Prof Kupe was appointed to the MUSE International Advisory Committee. While in Montpellier, Prof Kupe has been participating in the Montpellier Global Days for Science Education and Innovation: Africa 2021, as well as the New Africa-France Summit, which has been taking place over the past week (4–8 October 2021). More than 100 African participants have been involved in the summit, which is the first in-person event of its kind in Montpellier since the onset of the pandemic.
The week culminated in the New Africa-France Summit on 8 October, where analyses and syntheses of the week’s dialogues on partnerships around sustainable development issues are being delivered to a plenary headed by President Macron, to open and frame the discussion thereafter on future-forward Africa-France collaboration. Prof Kupe concluded his address with a call to the academic fraternity. “Today, as I humbly accept this honorary doctorate, may I provide a call through the University of Montpellier to everyone here today to redouble our efforts to build equitable and sustainable partnerships, and to extend them broadly to partners in both the Global South and the Global North. No university, country or region of the world can do it alone, and this work is certainly not for ourselves, but for the very livelihood of our planet and our future generations.”