South Africa: Covid-19 Has Posed the 'Wicked Problem' of How to Maintain Internationalisation in Higher Education


International collaboration is a critical aspect of university research and of academic rankings, amplified by the urgency to develop responses to cross-cutting global challenges. Southern African universities must rethink their internationalisation strategies to remain globally competitive and succeed after Covid-19. Key will be interventions that do not require the physical mobility of staff and students.

Covid-19 has caused frantic activity in southern African and global higher education, and a vibrant discourse on the characteristics of post-pandemic internationalisation has emerged, among others.

Drawing from the notion of a "wicked problem", we argue that post-Covid-19 internationalisation of higher education, and higher education itself, indeed has elements of "wickedness". A wicked problem does not mean the question is "malevolent", but rather that solutions might lead to new challenges, and that solutions cannot be classified as "right" or "wrong" (Zhao, Wehmeyer, Basham, & Hansen, 2019), and require diverse thinking.

Internationalisation of higher education is a complex space, full of "social and institutional uncertainties" and involving "multiple interacting systems" (Mertens, 2015, p3). Thus any attempt at a "best" way to advance internationalisation in higher education will be futile. We believe we should rather contemplate why internationalisation matters and why it would matter post-pandemic, and then...

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