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Southern African – Nordic Centre (SANORD) was founded at a meeting of universities from seven countries at the University of the Western Cape. It is designed to further multilateral academic cooperation between the Southern African and Nordic regions and to strengthen the capacity of all member institutions to address new local and global challenges of innovation and development. The leadership of member institutions meets annually for discussion and planning of joint endeavours.

The Centre augments the many bilateral agreements and collaborative projects between institutions in both regions.  It builds on the deep relationships of trust which have developed between the regions over many years, and on shared fundamental values of democracy, social equity and academic engagement.

The founding universities are from three Southern Africa and four Nordic countries: Aarhus (Denmark), Bergen (Norway), University of Malawi (Malawi), University of Namibia (Namibia), Turku (Finland), Uppsala (Sweden), and Western Cape (South Africa). Membership was open to all full universities in the two regions by the time of the first conference in December 2007.

A Board of the Vice-Chancellors or their representatives directs the Centre. The first Chairperson was Professor Brian O’Connell, Rector of the University of the Western Cape, and the first Vice-Chairperson, Professor Sigmund Grønmo, Rector of Bergen University.

The Centre’s activities and planning in the founding phase was being coordinated at the University of the Western Cape by Dr Kjetil Flatin, a retired senior academic and administrator from Oslo. He was funded through the generosity of the Norwegian Fredskorpset (Peace Corps). Leolyn Jackson was appointed a Director in due course.

The Centre has its physical base at the University of the Western Cape, where the secretariat is established. Extensive information about member institutions and the two regions, as well as valuable research and teaching materials are made available to SANORD members on its website and other activities associated with the Centre, such as specialist workshops and seminars, takes place in a different settings and institutions, depending on which members organise them.

A annual meeting of the Centre takes place in association with project workshops and a major conference or seminar. The first such meeting was held at the University of the Western Cape on 6 – 8 December 2007 with the conference theme "Higher Education, Research and Development: Shifting Challenges and Opportunities.​"​​​​