Trustees approve global engagement in South Africa

July 13, 2012

DUNMORE, Pa. -- The Penn State Board of Trustees today (July 13) took a step in support of the University's global engagement efforts by approving the creation of a trust in South Africa to facilitate research, education and outreach, contingent upon approval of the University's Office of General Counsel.

"One of Penn State's strategic goals is to realize our potential as a global university," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "We are doing this not by building physical facilities overseas, but rather by selectively partnering with existing universities around the world."

Penn State's global efforts are being implemented in part through the development of the Global Engagement Network (GEN) of which South Africa is a key location.

GEN helps Penn State expand its global reach through partnerships with institutions of higher education around the globe. Administered by the University Office of Global Programs, GEN promotes the transformation of Penn State's students into global citizens, enhances Penn State's worldwide presence and relevance, and propels the University toward global leadership in scholarship and international engagement. A trust in South Africa was determined to be the best vehicle to help administer funds from various sources, such as foundations and grant-awarding agencies for specific projects.

The University has a wide range of educational, research and outreach activities in South Africa involving multiple colleges, departments and disciplines, including agricultural sciences, biobehavioral health, geography, law, nursing and philosophy, to name a few, Erickson said. In order to support and expand these activities, a legal entity in the Republic of South Africa was necessary. Following extensive benchmarking and consultation under the leadership of the University Office of Global Programs and with the concurrence of the Office of General Counsel, Risk Management and the Corporate Controller's Office, the trust is being established as the infrastructure through which Penn State can best administer activities in South Africa.

"While in the past, we ran most of these programs under the umbrella of our South African partner institutions, as an aggregate, they have grown to the point that is no longer feasible," said Michael Adewumi, vice provost for Global Programs. "This trust will provide us with the necessary operational and legal infrastructure to continue to support and expand these programs in the foreseeable future."

The GEN strategy is gathering momentum and combined with the new trust in South Africa, opportunities are expected to expand, said Rob Crane, professor of geography and director of the Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering and Development in Africa (AESEDA).

“We have exciting collaborations developing in the GEN locations, particularly China and Europe.” Crane said. “South Africa, however, is a good example of how we are moving away from single purpose projects to multi-dimensional programs.With this new trust, the possibilities for further engagement increase dramatically."

Some of Penn State’s existing collaborations in South Africa include:

-- A strategic partnership with the University of Cape Town (UCT) includes several long-term research collaborations in climate change, as well as collaborative teaching programs in philosophy, faculty and student exchanges in law and ongoing research in religious studies and women's studies.

Penn State and UCT also are collaborating on several Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) projects in gender and climate change. In addition, the University has a strong collaboration in research and capacity-building in geophysics with the University of Witwatersrand.

-- The College of Agricultural Sciences has a major research program, the Ukulima Root Biology Center (URBC). URBC is a research and training facility in Limpopo Provence, South Africa, funded by a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and led by Jonathan Lynch, professor of plant nutrition in the College of Agricultural Sciences. (

-- Also in the College of Agricultural Sciences, there are long-term teaching and research connections with the University of Stellenbosch, and both the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Health and Human Development through its Department of Biobehavioral Health have collaborative programs at the University of Limpopo.

-- The College of Health and Human Development also offers a global health minor that sends students for a summer program in Limpopo, and there is a faculty-led, semester-long undergraduate education, research and community engagement program in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province – Parks and People. This program also is conducted in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and several local institutions.

-- Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and the Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering and Development in Africa (AESEDA) have relationships with South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and multi-institutional projects are being planned.

Last Updated July 13, 2012