David Jobbins and John O'Leary report on the Association of Commonwealth Universities conference in Belfast.
South Africa is to subsidise the study costs of international postgraduates who enrol at its universities.
Postgraduates from the Southern African Development Community can already enrol at South African universities and pay the same fee rates as South African students. The concession will now be extended under plans outlined by education minister Kader Asmal at the ACU conference.
The proposals will go some way to offset the flow of postgraduate and graduate students from developing countries to the developed world, an imbalance ironically fuelled by Commonwealth scholarship schemes.
Undergraduates from the 14 SADC countries will also pay fees as if they were home students.
Professor Asmal told delegates: "This is a major commitment on the part of South Africa as a developing country, but we make it gladly in the spirit of the African renaissance, the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the noble practice of internationalism."
Since the return to democracy in South Africa in 1994, the influx of students has increased from 5,000 to 40,000.
The move is aimed at countering the steady haemorrhaging of skilled professionals and ambitious career academics to better-paid and better supported jobs in the developed world, but South Africa came in for criticism for sucking in academics from the rest of Africa - especially Nigeria - during a session led by Njabulo Ndebele, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town.
He quoted figures suggesting that a quarter of the 58,000 South Africans emigrating between 1996 and 2001 were highly skilled professionals, compared with some 3,000 professionals moving the other way.
Universities faced an ageing cohort of predominantly white male researchers aged over 50 and a dearth of young researchers to replace them, he said.
"This is a matter of increasing concern, due largely to the inadequate salaries for university academics," he added.
The SADC states include Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.