Unique insights for students in South Africa and Zimbabwe

Knowledge exchange between Tilburg and Africa

Unique insights for students in South Africa and Zimbabwe

University Fund 3 min. Aniek Verhoeven

With the support of donors, the University Fund can offer unique opportunities to students. A good example is the Tilburg Africa Student & Knowledge Exchange program, organized by Tilburg University in cooperation with universities in Zimbabwe and South Africa. In the summer of 2018, eight students from Tilburg Law School were able to travel to Zimbabwe to discuss the differences in legal systems in Europe and Africa with students of Midlands State University.

They had a week of interactive lectures, presentations and workshops working alongside students and staff of Midlands State University. Besides the Tilburg University students, Professors Willem van Genugten and Corien Prins took part in the program. They volunteered to lead a group of some 35 students together with six lecturers from Midlands State University and North-West University in South Africa. Each university contributed to this project, preparing the courses, accommodation, speakers, support, and evening social programs, including a BBQ organized by students.

A different perspective

First-year Global Law student Daniel Knaap was one of the students selected for the unique opportunity of developing a different perspective on global challenges. Daniel says that many subjects addressed in the teaching at Tilburg have a European perspective. During the summer, he learnt about new subjects and gained different perspectives on legal systems. “I had never before thought about the subjects that were discussed, such as Black Economic Empowerment in South Africa or the problem of mines in Zimbabwe. Legislation in Zimbabwe is also different. The constitutional arrangements are different from here.” Daniel wants to specialize on Africa in his future career and participation in this project has confirmed his decision.“This opportunity was hugely valuable to me. It offered perspectives that you could not obtain in any other way. You can read about certain situations in the news but speaking about them with students and learning their points of view was a fantastic experience.”

I had never before thought about the subjects that were discussed.

Difference between theory and practice

Pre-Master’s student Sarah el Yaacoubi says that the past year was particularly relevant because of the political situation in Zimbabwe. “We were there around the time that President Mugabe had left office. We noticed the longer we worked together, the more conversations we were able to have with the population. They became more and more open. I still have weekly contact with students from Zimbabwe. They keep me up to date and tell me about the political situation there. It is a very different world from here.” The elections prompted lively debate, which, in contrast to earlier ones, did not address the nature of the Mugabe regime. There was more talk about possible, hoped-for change.

There are of course still issues such as the large-scale disappearance of public money, corruption and arbitrary government decisions. And also the limited role of the law in many areas, large discrepancies between the law in the books and the law in practice, the absence of a proper investment climate, and high levels of unemployment. At the same time, the students’ discussions were dominated by possible future scenarios for the country depending on which presidential candidate won. One of the candidates, currently a lecturer at the Law School of Midlands State University, turned up during dinner on the Thursday evening. This offered the students the chance to learn about his perspective on the challenges facing the country.

It is great that Tilburg University can offer such opportunities

Helping young people find their way

Right now, in these times of new hope, it is clear why this project is so relevant: helping young people find their way in reconstructing the country if there actually is a new era after the approaching elections, even if it comes slowly. Sarah: “This project has given me so much. It has prompted me to think outside the framework of Dutch law and to expand my knowledge. It is fun to consider with other students how the future can be improved. It is great that Tilburg University can offer such opportunities.”

Studenten krijgen unieke inzichten in Afrika


The Tilburg Africa Student & Knowledge Exchange project allows students and lecturers to share knowledge available in Tilburg with various African countries. We are using donations to this project to create a platform where African students gain the knowledge to tackle social and economic problems in their own countries. This project is co-funded by a number of major donors. 

Just before the summer school last year, it became known that the Dutch embassy in Zimbabwe had awarded a grant to the project. Thanks in particular to the efforts of alumnus Max van Dam in preparing the application, €15,000 was awarded to be spent over three years. The embassy’s commitment was also clear from the presence of the Dutch ambassador, Ms. Barbara van Hellemond at the opening of the week, where she offered a brief introduction to Dutch investment in Zimbabwe and policy decisions that will be made in the next few years.

Support the University Fund

Tilburg and African  students will be able to make use of this unique opportunity certainly for the next three years and –with your help– hopefully for much longer. Like to know more about the projects that the University Fund makes possible and how you can support them? 


Date of publication: 27 August 2019