South African ucdm policies place priority on addressing historical education imbalances, but should also be sensitive to the demands of an ever-increasing global knowledge-driven environment. The educational system cannot be dominated by the needs of the domestic educational system of South Africa ignoring the trends exerted by the global world (OEDC Annual Report, 2004:44). Higher education in South Africa should realize that they operate and function in a knowledge-driven global environment in which both domestic and foreign students demand access to the best quality education at the best reputable institutions of higher education in the world.
In this regard, most definitions of internationalization of higher education include the following: “Internationalisation is a process that prepares the community for successful participation in an increasingly interdependent world … The process infuse all facets of the post-secondary education system, fostering global understanding and developing skills for effective living and working in a diverse world” (Francis, 1993 cited by Patrick, 1997).
The position of higher education in South Africa should be evaluated considering the re-integration of South Africa into the global community. South Africa was rapidly re-integrated into the world community by obtaining almost immediate membership of influential international organisations after 1994. Kishun (1998:59) indicated that South Africa became a member of among others the following international institutions: United Nations; Organisation of African Unity; Commonwealth; International Olympic Committee; Federation of International Football Associations; and Lome Convention. Integration of influential international institutions is a necessary but not sufficient pre-condition for internationalization of higher education. Sustainable internationalization should be closely aligned to the emerging global trends and events in the education sector.
An analysis of the basis on which internationalization of higher education occurs is needed as well as the benefits of the internationalization process. This research is conducted against this background.
Whilst South Africa is in a process of transition regarding higher education to address the imbalances of the past, the question arises whether the South African educational sector is able to compete in the global economy which regard knowledge as a commercialised commodity.