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Their Majesties of the Belgian people visits UWC's Future-Innovation Lab


Author: Nathan Adams



Their Majesties the King and the Queen of the Belgian people paid a historic visit to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Saturday, 25 March 2023.


The Belgian delegation included the Rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), Professor Prof. Jan Danckaert, Vice-Rector of Internationalisation, Professor Karin Vanderkerken, as well as academics from both VUB and Ghent universities.


UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Innovation, Prof José Frantz, and Social Development Minister, Lindiwe Zulu, welcomed Their Majesties at the Jakes Gerwel Hall at the Main Campus at UWC in Bellville.


In his opening remarks, Professor Pretorius paid homage to Gerwel and the valuable role he played in fostering the longstanding relationship between UWC and Belgian universities.


“Prof Gerwel, an alumnus of the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, set our University on a path of enlightenment and transformation. In 2013, Princess Astrid bestowed the title of Commander of the Order of Leopold on my immediate predecessor, Professor Brian O’Connell, in recognition of the tireless efforts to strengthen ties between our respective countries,” said Prof Pretorius.


Their Majesties were presented with a book about UWC as a reminder of the value placed on the partnership between the University and Belgium.


Prof Pretorius said: “One of the chapters in the book is entitled ‘From Digital Divide to Digital Inclusion’ and emphasises the huge digital imbalances as the global economies become increasingly ICT reliant. Research has moved beyond individual contributions to genuine interaction, collaboration, joint supervision, joint PhD programmes and the establishment of the CoLab for Digital Inclusion and Social Innovation.”


Photo: Ruvan Boshoff/UWC


As part of the state visit, Their Majesties visited the CoLab for e-Inclusion and Social Innovation at UWC. It was established in 2012 to enhance a thought leadership role towards a more equitable, inclusive and just digital society through evidence-based research for policy discourse, strategy implementation and practical interventions like social innovation.


Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, Professor José Frantz said: “We use that space to capacitate young learners that have not been able to access a university and train them as coders, which is a much-needed skill in our country. We have a 30% unemployment rate in South Africa and so we as a university need to contribute towards growing the employment rate here in South Africa.”


Photo: Ruvan Boshoff/UWC


She added: “This state visit is a significant visit for us. Honouring both our previous Rector, Prof Jakes Gerwel as well as coming to acknowledge that the University of the Western Cape plays an important role in relationships between Belgium and South Africa.


“We have a history of having had Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad funding before, for 10 years, where we were able to really capacitate staff here at UWC. And we're hoping that as we move forward that we will be able to have similar funding coming from Belgium and working collectively to find funding that will support the capacitation of our staff here at UWC and also building our infrastructure, research and teaching and learning activities.”















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