In 2020, the university launched an updated vision on Global Engagement and Cooperation with Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Co-creation of knowledge through equal partnerships, inclusion and diversity are put forward as important strategies to tackle the global development goals together. Upon the rector’s mandate, this vision text served as the starting point for broad, participative, institution-wide reflection in which more than 150 academic partners, experts, students, and staff participated in various working groups, workshops, and knowledge platforms. This intense two-year feedback and participative process has now resulted in the Strategic Framework for Global Engagement 2022. Building on our tradition of cooperation and solidarity with the Global South, the focus has shifted from an approach of development cooperation to an approach of global engagement with updated perspectives on international partnerships, decolonisation, and critical global citizenship. This framework is well-suited and adds an additional dimension to the broader ambition of an inclusive, diverse and engaged university (see Ethnic Cultural Diversity policies), whilst the Global Minds projects support this process.

Why Global Engagement?

The Strategic Framework was first and foremost inspired by the urgent concern for our common home, where ‘life itself is at stake’ (Achille Mbembe, 2021). We need to shift from a narrow focus on poverty in the Global South to a broad focus on the multidimensional sustainability and justice challenges the world currently faces. Hereby every country becomes a ‘developing’ one, where none can claim to be the universal and undisputed model for the other. The wicked, interconnected, systemic global challenges of our current era call for interconnected solutions, and require a diversity of academic and non-academic knowledges to be mobilised to co-create just and inclusive pathways of change. Therefore, the Eurocentric idea of ‘development cooperation’ must be substituted with equitable multilateral cooperation and international solidarity, hence Global Engagement.


Decolonisation is a central concept in the Strategic Framework, where it is understood not solely as the acknowledgement and redressing of historical injustices, but primarily as the promotion of emancipatory processes that challenge power imbalances, epistemic and non-epistemic injustices, inequalities, and prejudices that persist today in our global society, at our university and universities in general, and within our own minds. As a process, decolonisation requires stimulating open discussions and reflections within the academic community and its worldwide networks, while not shying away from critical self-reflection and questions about inequality and injustices rooted in power. This process is necessary to revitalise international cooperation.

‘Decolonisation is the liberation of reason itself from colonisation’ – Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni

Despite its complexity and sometimes contestation, decolonisation is a precondition for an inclusive, just, equitable and globally connected university (See broader vision for more background information). This process requires efforts from all of us (without losing ourselves in fault, guilt, or accusations), asking all of us to be courageous and ambitious within various university domains, ranging from (1) education, to (2) research, and (3) international partnerships. Please note that the actions described below are examples of possible actions and that this is not an exhaustive list, nor has it been worked out in detail.

(1) Education and curriculum

Goal: striving towards inclusive global citizenship skills and attitudes, moving beyond intercultural skills, including issues around power dynamics, injustices, and privileges. To function as ethical changemakers, one must be able to analyse global injustices and inequalities, while being confidently aware of one’s inevitable positionality and the possible unequal responsibilities towards co-creation and solidarity.

  • Address the reality, consequences and ways to overcome colonialism and coloniality within the curriculum, both in existing study programmes and as well as new stand-alone study programmes. Be careful not to universalise Eurocentric knowledge but rather be aware of the specific situatedness of any knowledge and its application, acknowledging and promoting a diversity of knowledge sources without abandoning scientific standards.

  • Within an active pluralist university, the philosophy is not to impose a new decolonial canon but rather to have open discussions and intense knowledge encounters, facilitating multi-perspectivity and interdisciplinarity, expanding on the already existing policy around inclusive curricula. Create opportunities, mutual respect and safe spaces for ‘minoritised groups’ within the university communities.

  • Include active anti-racism as a pivotal pillar of decolonisation and critical global citizenship.

  • Inviting more lecturers (visiting or other) and expanding on international authors used, while supporting two-way mobility and international classrooms (digital or non-digital) that can further internationalise the curriculum and promote intense exchange and mutual learning between students and lecturers from different geographies.

  • Promote inclusive global citizenship through extra-curricular (and curricular) mobility in and in-depth exposure to the Global South.

  • Where appropriate, enhance pedagogical methodologies that nurture discussions and critical exchange between lecturer and student, create safe spaces allowing intervision and an open home for everyone at the university.

  • Stimulate bottom-up discussion and intervision among teaching staff about educational innovation in this perspective, respecting academic freedom and active pluralism.

(2) Research and societal outreach

Goal: mobilise a range of diverse knowledges (academic and non-academic), different stakeholders and further deepen international research cooperation to tackle interconnected systemic global challenges (SGDs).

  • Critically questioning the societal pathway and development trajectories within research assumptions and the overall benefit of the research itself to tackle global challenges, whilst acknowledging the complexity and lack of a priori clarity of these questions.

  • Need for bottom-up awareness raising around critical reflection and self-reflection on the positionality, power dynamics and values of researchers. Research about what? For and with whom? Framing of topics and approaches?

  • Need for more conscious and variegated strategies of societal outreach.

  • Safeguard safe spaces for joint reflections.

  • Explore the possibility of including Global Engagement questions in Ethics Reviews, primarily as an incentive for researchers to self-reflect.

(3) Global partnerships

Goal: continue with and deepen the tradition of intense cooperation with academics and partner institutions of UAntwerp and AUHA in the Global South, enhancing strategies of societal outreach to address our shared, wicked, interrelated system crisis, and working to rebalance power inequalities to strengthen effective academic cooperation, both on issues of the Global South and Global North.

  • The university must be an inclusive institution that stimulates equality, cooperation, interdependence, reciprocity, and empowerment in order to address the priority issues of our current age more effectively.

  • In our cooperation with the Global South, this implies shaping a self-reflective, international solidarity which requires understanding the inevitable unequal conditions of academic cooperation and a significant commitment to redress the consequences of both historical and current power imbalances. Stimulate awareness of and reflection (including self-reflection) about rebalanced partnerships at UAntwerp and AUHA. Abandon the binarity between so-called North and South topics. As a pilot experience, we want to invite Southern scholars to propose and implement research projects in the Global North.

Moving forward

The Strategic Framework has a supportive-catalyst role in placing issues on the university agenda and fostering critical discussion between departments, faculties, staff, and students around Global Engagement in general and UAntwerp’s relations with the Global South specifically. It does not intend to serve as a strict blueprint. The latter would go precisely against the core principles of openness, communication, multi-perspectivity and continuous critical reflection.

The aim for the following five years is to continue learning, reflecting and most importantly, co-developing actions to be taken, within a gradual, communicative way with respect for academic and non-academic freedom while avoiding imposed dogmatism. The Strategic Framework was developed through an intense democratic process, and the Working Group for Global Engagement now looks forward to continuing this participative process. We invite everyone to join this important, interesting, and necessary process, and to commit ourselves to scrutiny and self-reflection for the future of the world and the university.