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Introducing Beata Mtyingizana, new director of IAPO

19 Feb 2018 - 12:15
Photo of IAPO Director, Dr Beata Mtyingizana

The use of the concept of internationalisation in higher education is wide-ranging and therefore difficult to define. For Dr Beata Mtyingizana, however, it’s really quite simple: bring the world to South Africa and take South African higher education to the world.

As the newly-appointed director of the International Academic Programme Office (IAPO) at UCT, Mtyingizana plans to tackle this role with vigour and efficiency and, by shifting the focus to the rest of Africa more than ever before, hopes to assist in accelerating UCT’s lagging transformation process.

“It’s exciting to arrive at a place that is in need of change. I feel like I will be able to contribute and, in 10 years’ time, look back and say: ‘I did that,’” says Mtyingizana.

With her no-nonsense approach to work, calm optimism and wealth of expertise – garnered from her years of experience working in the higher education sector, including the Council of Higher Education, teaching at three universities, working as a director of global partnerships at the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), as well as her stint as the director of international affairs at the University of the Free State (UFS) – Mtyingizana is already affecting noticeable change and shaking things up in the best way possible at IAPO.

Big dreams and plot twists

Although she’s found her niche in the realm of internationalisation – or, rather, as she likes to say, it found her – Mtyingizana once had very different plans.

As a young girl growing up in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township (designated for black people only under the country’s notorious Group Areas Act during Apartheid), her sights were set on one career goal and one only: to become a lawyer.

With her bright mind, strong personality and passion for social justice, it seemed like a no-brainer. So, after finishing matric, she enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and undertook a BA in Law.

However, as the course progressed, she found herself nurturing an affinity for sociology, one of her additional modules, instead.

“Sociology captured me and I was at a crossroads between finding a law firm where I could do my articles or doing a postgraduate degree in sociology – and I chose to that the latter,” she explains.

This coincided with an opportunity at Wits’s Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) to conduct research on labour within Mozambique’s retail sector, which kickstarted her academic career and – as it turned out – laid the foundation for her work in internationalisation.

How internationalisation found her

It was during her time working at Wits’s Sociology Department that Mtyingizana was first struck by the snail’s pace at which post-Apartheid transformation was taking place at South Africa’s higher education institutions.

“I guess I wanted to use my time to make meaningful contributions to the transformation of the higher education sector, hence I walked out of Wits. As an alternative to academia, I thought I’d give policy-making a shot and joined the Council on Higher Education,” she explains.

Part of her job at the time was to manage the research that advised the Minister of the DHET. Internationalisation happened to be one of the focus areas, in addition to identifying and supporting research collaboration, research networks and building institutional partnerships. Mtyingizana’s critical approach to research and her talent in the meticulous management of large-scale research projects made her noticeable. She was invited to apply to the DHET for the position of director: global partnerships. This was a promotion for Mtyingizana; it came with a higher level of responsibility and accountability, as it involved not only supporting various internationalisation initiatives of higher education institutions in the country, but also engaging the international community to promote the interests South Africa and realising the objectives of the DHET with regards to the development of higher education in the country. Mtyingizana was responsible for multilateral and bilateral cooperation with over 130 countries.

“Of course, things are very different when you are inside a university,” she says.

Vision for IAPO

Although this isn’t an entirely new experience for her, having filled a similar role at the UFS, her directorship at IAPO poses a range of new challenges and opportunities.

“For me, it’s really providing a service to the university and its community – students, academics and professional administrative services. The international space is a hub of opportunity and resources. So, it’s about being able to identify where resources and opportunities lie and bringing these to UCT,” she says.

Interestingly, the very thing that once made her leave Wits encouraged her to accept this position at UCT.

“There is a demand – in fact, it’s an urgency now – for UCT to take the issue of transformation very seriously. Each and every department, unit, institute and centre at UCT has to play that role,” she says, pointing out that in order to play in a global field, you need to be able to represent the Africa in which UCT is located and be able to understand the societal dynamics that shape the UCT context and experience.

A big part of Mtyingizana’s vision for IAPO, then, is to enhance south-south partnerships, tap into those previously neglected regions of the world and promote African partnerships. She plans to identify resources to foster mobility within Africa for both students and academics, promote internationalisation at home, and position UCT as a destination of choice and a ‘go-to’ institution.

Never stop learning

Much of Mtyingizana’s work is also driven by her passion for the ongoing process of acquiring knowledge.

“Every time I learn something, I realise how little I know. So, this is a lifetime journey of learning and constantly acquiring different types of knowledge,” she explains.

She also hopes to transfer this approach to her colleagues at IAPO by encouraging them to grasp any and every opportunity to learn while on the job.

“The business of learning has no age limit, and it is always a good thing to continue improving your knowledge base. Even while working,” she says.

Hope in humanity

It is also, then, unsurprising that – despite all that is wrong with the world right now – Mtyingizana possesses a quiet but infectious optimism, rooted in the generous space she holds for people.

“Human beings – or, more accurately, the whole element of Ubuntu [a widely used word in Africa that has no direct translation but refers to a connectedness between people and a common humanity] – gives me hope. We exist as human beings first and then everything else follows,” she explains.

Apart from this, she also believes that the small political revolutions happening all around us – Zimbabwe and South Africa getting new presidents – are helping to take the region and the continent to a new level.

“I think there will be a pendulum shift that will give us a whole lot more to be hopeful about,” she concludes.

Story by Nadia Krige. Portrait by Lerato Mokhethi.