The need for universities to contribute to local/regional development is a growing policy priority across the world. This is true for both young universities, created in remote regions so as to boost the knowledge economy, and older traditional universities, who are under pressure to expand access and demonstrate graduate employability. In the EU, various policies propagate higher education institutions (HEI) as regional/local motors for development: Under the EU2020 strategy, regional investment is a main channel for ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’. The EU has promoted the role of universities in ‘smart specialisation’ in European regions, which emphasizes their contribution to innovation, industry outreach and employment.
This is also true in Latin America (LA), though the local development agenda tends to focus more on access to higher education and social inclusion. For example, several universities have recently been created in Argentina and Chile with a distinct regional development profile and a governance structure that engages local industry.
Recently, the OBREAL/GLOBAL Observatory-led project ‘ULISES’, financed under Action 3 of the Erasmus Mundus programme (2014-2016) explored universities, local development, employability and academic quality in South America. One major conclusion was that more academic cooperation is needed between institutions in diverse global regions, which share economic sectoral development interests, yet lack historical or linguistic traditions of collaboration.
The partners of VitaGlobal share the belief that in order to deliver higher quality, locally relevant study programmes and research, global engagement in needed.
The strategy ‘EU Higher Education in the World’ (2013) states that HEI should aim to ‘develop international curricula’ and ‘position themselves according to their strengths in education, research or innovation, and forge partnerships within and outside Europe’. This strategy also acknowledges that global engagement should go beyond top research capitals, and link regions across the globe with similar challenges, industries and needs. VitaGlobal is predicated on this interest: It links universities in Latin America, Europe, South Africa and Georgia in a distinct global network, committed to local development challenges through the internationalisation of study programmes.
Amongst the regional/country priorities of the Erasmus+ programme, Latin America, Georgia and South Africa all cite ‘Agriculture’ as a priority for curriculum development. VitaGlobal thus focuses on sharpening university contribution to local development, specifically by proposing a curriculum development project that targets a growing agricultural sub-sector for all of the Partner regions involved: viniviticulture and oenology. It does so by building a joint study programme, which is widely acknowledged to contribute to teaching innovation and internationalisation, as well a a wider cooperation network linking diverse insitutions.
On the macro-level, there is a strategic importance regarding viniviticulture, oenology for all partner and programme countries selected: In La Rioja, Argentina, Talca, Chile, Uruguay and Kakheti, Georgia there is an evolving wine industry, which is contributing dramatically to local development. This said, each country has its respective challenges, which universities, local producers and chambers of commerce must consider. International collaboration on the academic level is thought to be a means to generate more international awareness and build capacity to upscale and market production. In general, as technology advances in this sector, there is a need to share practice and innovate. In VitaGlobal, ‘New world’ can learn from ‘old world’ (Europe but also Georgia and South Africa, as both have a long tradition in viticulture) and ‘old world’ can also learn from ‘new’.