History of the IUC programme

In 2010, the University of Limpopo (UL) and the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) inaugurated a joint research programme. The programme is sponsored by the Belgian government, with the first phase continuing until 2015, at which point, the second five-year-phase will commence in April 2015. The collaboration began through Prof Robert Colebunders and Prof Dirk Wessels. Colebunders is a Flemish co-ordinator and tropical diseases expert from the University of Antwerp with a long-established relationship with the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) while, at the time, Wessels was the UL director of research and served as the local co-ordinator. When Wessels retired in 2011, Prof Mbudzeni Sibara, UL deputy vice chancellor: research and academic, took over as acting local co-ordinator until 2012, when the position was filled by Prof Kingsley Ayisi. With the start of the second phase Prof. Jean-Pierre van geertruyden will be the new Flemish coordinator when Prof Robert Colebunders retired.

The programme is administered and supported by the University of Limpopo Trust. It represents significant steps towards the realisation of the UL’s mission and vision, which is to be a leading African university of world-class quality. The slogan chosen for the VLIR-UOS programme solidifies these intentions: Human Wellness in the Context of Global Change – Finding Solutions for Rural Africa.

The primary objective of the current programme is to offer mobility to South African and Belgian Master’s students, Doctoral researchers and programme staff in terms of their studies or research periods at one of the partner universities. At the start of the programme and during the first phase the programme comprised eight separate projects that straddle both the Turfloop and Medunsa campuses:

• Data management, analysis and GIS. The newly-established Risk and
Vulnerability Science Centre (RAVSC) lies at the heart of this project.
• Energising competent communities in terms of wellness and global change.
• Prevention, control and management of chronic diseases in
rural communities.
• The impact of water-related stressors on the ecosystem.
• Multiple literacies.
• Food security.
• Public health interventions.
• Infectious diseases.

The VLIR programme’s primary characteristic is the interrelatedness of its projects, and its power to add real value to its internal collaborations with external partners. But what exactly is the VLIR-UOS programme? The answer lies partly in the names behind the acronyms. VLIR stands for Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad (Flemish Interuniversities Council), while UOS represents Universitaire Ontwikkelingssamenwerking (University Development Co-operation). UL has entered into a form of academic cooperation with the Flemish universities of Belgium. VLIR-UOS forms a bridge between development co-operation and higher education linking Flanders and the developing world. It brings together academics and experts from different locations and disciplines, and it also provides a platform for researchers and development specialists in Belgium to interact with their counterparts in the southern regions of the world. The VLIR-UOS programme is without doubt the most important source of academic and research funding available to UL, constituting 20% to 25% at present. It’s a huge opportunity for the university. Not only have we gained access to First World resources, but also to First World expertise and networks.

It will mean the internationalisation of our own researchers and research fields. All these developments represent significant steps towards the realisation of the University of Limpopo’s mission and vision, which is to be a leading African university of world-class quality.
In short, the VLIR-UOS programme will help to lift the status of the university to a level where it rightfully belongs – one that plays a meaningful role on the international stage.