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SDG University Day on 16 June 2023

Decolonising North-South Partnerships in Higher Education

©Sandra Meyndt

How can global partnerships between universities in Baden-Württemberg be decolonized? And what role do state policy and university structures play in this? These and other questions were discussed by participants from politics and universities at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) University Day Baden-Württemberg. Mutual respect, but also the elimination of structural asymmetries between research partners from the "Global North" and "Global South" were two of the demands that emerged from the SDG University Day.

The SDG University Day took place at the University of Freiburg on June 16, 2023. It was organized by the Africa Centre for Transregional Research (ACT) in cooperation with the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute. More than 170 visitors and representatives from universities and politics discussed how North-South partnerships can be decolonized in the higher education sector as part of the 17th Sustainable Development Goal "Partnerships to Achieve the Goals". In her opening address, the Rector of the University of Freiburg, Kerstin Krieglstein, focused on the importance of global partnerships in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She emphasized that the University of Freiburg would like to further expand global cooperation and, in doing so, look even more towards the "Global South" in the future. The welcoming address by the Lord Mayor of the City of Freiburg, Martin Horn, was followed by a varied program of discussions, speeches and interactive workshops.

In her keynote speech on the decolonization of partnerships in higher education, Minister of Science Petra Olschowski said that the state of Baden-Württemberg is committed to its historically grown responsibility. "Decolonizing partnerships requires a fundamental will for equality, transparency and openness as well as the willingness to question one's own position."

Panel discussion

Experiences of racism, the lack of visas for researchers from the "Global South" and bureaucratic hurdles to collaboration, as well as the profiting of science and universities through slavery and the colonial era, were part of the subsequent open and critical panel discussion. The participants in the discussion positively emphasized the personal commitment of many university members in North-South partnerships and the good experiences among colleagues. Dr. Grace Diabah, Co-Director Ghana at the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa at the University of Ghana, Prof. Dr. Melinda Madew, Professor of International Social Work at the Evangelische Hochschule Ludwigsburg and Dr. Dorothea Rüland, Secretary General of the Hamburg Institute for Advanced Study and former Secretary General of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) discussed these personal experiences in relation to partnerships between German universities and partners from the "Global South". For the future, they called for transparent and honest communication, respectful interaction, mutual appreciation and reciprocal knowledge transfer. Above all, however, action is needed to actually bring about change.

Lightning talks

In short lightning talks, five members of the university then gave insights into their views on the topic. Key concerns included improved framework conditions for global research cooperation and the diversification of knowledge and teaching. The demands also included the decolonization of university structures and the abolition of tuition fees. The importance of diverse voices being heard was emphasized. Minister Olschowski then responded to the lightning talks. She promised to carry the diverse impulses into the discussions with the university rectors in Baden-Württemberg.

Interviews as part of the ASA project "Decolonize Universities"

Akua Agyapong, student at the University of Ghana and participant in the ASA project "Decolonize Universities", conducted interviews with participants from various institutions as part of the University Day:


The afternoon workshops offered all visitors to the University Day the opportunity to continue and deepen the discussion on selected topics. The focus was on the decolonization of knowledge production, university structures, research cooperation and the curriculum.

The recognition of knowledge and research methods from the "Global South" and access to data, scientific networks and publications are two of the concrete demands from the workshops. Long-term partnerships and their funding should also be promoted. The most important points of the workshops and further implementation steps were discussed by those responsible from universities and politics in a final discussion. Internationalization and cooperation with the "Global South", according to the quintessence, is not a nice-to-have, but must be promoted as a systematic approach.

Market of opportunities

The Market of Opportunities, which took place alongside the University Day, offered space to get to know various organizations and initiatives and to network. 28 Baden-Württemberg initiatives from universities and civil society that have a connection to the SDGs or are committed to the de-colonization of universities presented themselves to visitors.

Overall, many experiences were exchanged at the SDG University Day and concrete future steps were discussed. The Baden-Württemberg University Network for Global Partnerships will continue the discussion.

Further information

© Sandra Meyndt

© Helga Dickow

© Sandra Meyndt

© Helga Dickow

© Helga Dickow

© Sandra Meyndt

© Richard Plankenhorn