December 1, 2016
By Steven Roy Goodman
OVER the past three weeks, I have heard from many South African friends concerned about the results of the presidential election in the United States and the uncertainty of US-South Africa bilateral relations in 2017 and beyond.
It would be easy to accept that both countries are on a collision course with leaders determined to move in opposite directions. Some say that the United States will look inward, while South Africa will struggle to provide essential services to a majority of citizens at an affordable price.
After reflecting on these conversations, I think both countries could benefit from examining their long-term financial and political interests and working to increase ties that combine the spirit of ubuntu with transactional efficiencies.
In one important sector of both economies, institutions of higher learning provide specific opportunities for both president-elect Trump and President Jacob Zuma to acknowledge the importance of educated citizenries while helping to make universities more affordable for hundreds of thousands of students.
US university tuition rates can be over R700 000
University affordability is an important consumer issue that affects multiple generations of students and families. Americans inherently understand the cost issues that have helped propel the #FeesMustFall movement. Meanwhile, many South Africans commiserate with U.S. students struggling with university tuition rates that can be over $50 000 (R700 000) per year. There is now more student debt in the United States than there is credit card debt.
Certainly, both countries face different economic, political, and social pressures. But our countries have a great deal to continue learning from and offering each other in the tertiary education arena.
The spirit of educational institutions in South Africa has informed many years of international student counselling, demonstrated the epitome of academic and pre-professional teamwork, and shown the richness of both African and Western intellectual traditions.
On the flip side of the same coin, some of the can-do American perspective has contributed to eleven television segments from the University of Cape Town that have put a spotlight on cutting edge university initiatives throughout South Africa, including agricultural training and education, mathematics, and mechanical engineering.
What happens, though, after the inauguration festivities in Washington?
Both countries could work to collaborate further on training, school and technical exchanges, infrastructure development, tourism, and trade and immigration issues. On the level of public trust and engagement, the two presidents ought to lead the struggle for meaningful national dialogues that help emotionally connect large numbers of students and young adults to their governments.
The Zuma administration could benefit from connecting more with South African university students. At the same time, the Trump administration should seek to assist U.S. students also keenly interested in money issues, skill development, and jobs. Reform in education finance is a good place to start.
From both sides of the Atlantic, let’s encourage our leaders to meet with each other and discuss the global issues that unite us – instead of focusing on divergent paths that could lead the world to less security and prosperity.
* Steven Roy Goodman is an educational consultant in Washington, D.C. and host of the television talk show Higher Education Today.