8. August 2019 | Magazine:

From South Africa to Braunschweig Students from Stellenbosch University visit the Institute of Software Engineering and Automotive Informatics

For three weeks, the two students Khahliso Ledingwane and Clarice de Bruyn from the University of Stellenbosch were guests at the Institute of Software Engineering and Automotive Informatics at the Technische Universität Braunschweig. Their research internship intends to strengthen the exchange between the two universities. Furthermore, the TU Braunschweig and the University of Stellenbosch plan an application for a joint international graduate college of both universities.

From Stellenbosch to the TU Braunschweig: Professor Ina Schaefer (centre) invited the students Clarice de Bruyn and Khahliso Ledingwane (from left to right) to her institute. Picture credits: Marisol Glasserman/TU Braunschweig

Around 10,000 kilometres are the distance between the TU Braunschweig and the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. At the university near Cape Town, Khahliso Ledingwane and Clarice de Bruyn are studying at the Department of Information Science. Both are currently in their “Honours Year” to obtain an Honours undergraduate degree. In March 2019, they met Professor Ina Schaefer from the Institute of Software Engineering and Automotive Informatics at the TU Braunschweig.

“It all started in the tea kitchen,” explains Clarice. “We talked to Professor Schaefer about studying in South Africa and the differences compared to Germany. Studying in South Africa is very expensive. In addition, a Master’s degree in Stellenbosch consists mainly of project work. A German Master’s programme, on the other hand, contains more theoretical courses and is therefore an interesting option for us”. Although they both considered studying in Germany would be interesting, there were also concerns, as Khahliso reports: “Of course we also asked ourselves what the culture and the people in Germany are like and whether we would like the student life at a German university.”

„Successful experimental project“

When summer begins here, it is winter in South Africa: the picture shows the “Ou Hoofdgebou”, the old main building of the University of Stellenbosch, which now houses the Faculty of Law. Picture credits: Ina Schaefer/TU Braunschweig

For an insight into German university life, Professor Schaefer invited Khahliso and Clarice to her institute in Braunschweig for a research internship. Schaefer had already spent her research semester at the Department of Computer Science in Stellenbosch from September 2016 to March 2017. Together with colleagues, she considered how students could benefit from the good relations between the TU Braunschweig and the University of Stellenbosch. In 2018, the computer science institutes of the two universities signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the idea to offer student exchanges, as well. “It is important to me to provide opportunities for young people. Khahliso’s and Clarice’s research internship was basically an experimental project which was very successful. The two are open, easily integrated and can act as ambassadors for the TU Braunschweig in Stellenbosch,” says Schaefer.

Khahliso and Clarice spent two of the three weeks at the TU Braunschweig: They had various programming tasks at the Institute for Software Engineering and Vehicle Informatics. This way, they supported the institute’s scientific staff in their projects. Afterwards they spent a week at a company in the region. “The stay in Germany eliminated many of my fears,” Clarice says. “In the beginning, I was very afraid of not understanding anything because I didn’t speak German. But I noticed that you can communicate very well in English here, too”. Khahliso also draws a positive conclusion: “It was very helpful to get to know students and academic staff and talk to them about their experiences. For example, I got to know various ways to fund the Master’s programme.” Khahliso intends to come back to the TU Braunschweig for her Master’s degree. Professor Schaefer sees benefits for both sides in such a research internship: “I think that we should encourage students to move forward. Students who can gain experience will benefit from this exchange – just as the universities, which receive new input from the international students. Our aim is to develop a regular exchange programme.”

Application for an international graduate college

In the future, the University of Stellenbosch and the TU Braunschweig also want to cooperate on other levels: Together, they will apply for a tender for an international graduate college from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).

Joint workshop for an international graduate college: The participants are from Braunschweig, Stellenbosch, Eindhoven and Delft. Picture credits: TU Braunschweig

In March this year, Professor Schaefer travelled to Stellenbosch together with Professor Tilo Balke, Professor Christian Leßmann, Professor Markus Magnor, Professor Sebastian Stiller and Professor Markus Gerke as well as the President of the TU Braunschweig, Professor Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, in order to work with the local colleagues on the joint proposal. The idea is to establish an interdisciplinary cooperation in the fields of computer science, geoinformatics, mathematics and economics.