South African education minister Kader Asmal has launched an attack on "global universities" that see developing countries as no more than new markets.
Delivering the address at a four-day conference in Cape Town this week, Professor Asmal said: "There is scant concern for development agendas, or even concern to promote traditional values associated with higher education.
"Higher education has been commodified and transformed into a service - to be bought and sold. Is this what the much- vaunted benefits of globalisation are all about? If so, I can state categorically we want nothing to do with it.
"We do not wish to turn a blind eye to supranational developments, nor do we wish to build new walls around ourselves. But we cannot stand by and watch the erosion of our system. At the centre of our approach is striving for new excellence in public higher education."
Professor Asmal was speaking at the conference "Towards the Global University II: Redefining Excellence in the Third Millennium", jointly organised by the University of Central Lancashire, California State University and Cape Technikon, South Africa.
He said that unless global engagement was guided by national objectives, higher education risked reinforcing unequal relations that had existed for far too long and would miss "a golden opportunity to celebrate and build on the diversity that is part of our common heritage".
Professor Asmal focused on the role of partnerships in achieving excellence. He recently placed a moratorium on new partnerships between public and private higher education institutions in South Africa, where there is phenomenal growth in a private sector made up both of local and foreign institutions, especially from Britain and Australia.
The moratorium, Professor Asmal stressed, was not prompted by "narrow protectionist agendas or national chauvinism". Many partnerships between local and foreign institutions had been "critically important in assisting South African institutions to build their research and teaching capacities".
Much private-sector development had been taking place in collaboration with local public institutions but many associations were not partnerships but "marriages of convenience", he said.