Preparing SDG Leaders through an Multidisciplinary Masters – University of Pretoria

Africa needs development practitioners in government, business and civil society who understand the complexity of development challenges and who have the leadership capacities to design and implement the integrated and multidisciplinary Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In response to this, the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pretoria in South Africa created the Master’s in Development Practice. Willem Fourie, the coordinator of this programme as well as the SDG Hub featured a few weeks ago on PRiMEtime, shared more details on this interdisciplinary programme and the impact they hope to have across the continent.

Introduce your new Degree programme and why it is unique.

We’re glad to be able to launch Africa’s first interdisciplinary postgraduate degree on the implementation of the SDGs. The Master’s in Development Practice at the University of Pretoria (MDP@UP) will equip participants with the leadership skills and interdisciplinary competence that should assist with realising the SDGs in their respective contexts.

Why have it?

Most universities’ postgraduate degrees focus on specialisation in one field. In the SDG era we also need degrees that broaden students understanding of a number of fields. The MDP@UP wants to equip participants with the foundational knowledge in health sciences, social sciences, management sciences and environmental sciences, coupled with the appropriate leadership skills.

The Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pretoria hosts the national SDG Hub – a resource aimed at strengthening evidence-informed policy making around the SDGs. We realised the need to also build the appropriate capacity by means of postgraduate education, which is why we have developed the degree.

How is the degree organized?

We focus on participants already in full-time employment, and to this end we’re using a rather innovative flipped-classroom approach. Participants will be exposed to theory by means of online learning experiences, facilitated by our expert faculty. This will form the basis for engagement with experts and fellow participants and immersion in real-life developmental challenges during high-intensity contact weeks. Their research project will centre on identifying, describing and interpreting a complex and interdisciplinary developmental challenge in their work environment.

Our expert academic faculty members are from a range of academic departments at the university. Experts from the private sector, multilateral organisations, governments and civil society will also participate in the sessions during the contact weeks.

Explain more about the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and how that is being facilitated.

Participants will be exposed to foundational theory in health sciences, social sciences, management sciences and environmental sciences. This will form the basis for both their leadership service learning course, as well as the case study write-up. The integration of different disciplines will be facilitated especially by two elements of the programme: immersion and assessment. Immersion refers to participants’ exposure to real life examples of development practice. They will be enabled to reflect on the relevance of a wide variety of disciplines in each of the immersion experiences. And during their assessment, participants – both individually and in groups – will be challenged to design multidisciplinary solutions.

What have been the challenges of organising an interdisciplinary programme on the SDGs? Successes so far?

This programme of course challenges the conventional ways in which we organise universities. But we were fortunate to get the support of our Executive and fantastic faculty members quite early on.

Who is the programme aimed at?

We’re interested in participants who hail from Africa and who have been working for at least five years.

Any tips for other schools interested in doing something similar?

Only one thing: give it a try, and persevere!

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