The Regional Initiative in Science and Education, or RISE, a programme aimed at boosting higher education in Africa in the sciences and engineering through postgraduate training, is likely to continue as the major donor has indicated the possibility of renewing its support that ends next year.
Prospects for the future of RISE, which is led by the Science Initiative Group at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, which initially consulted partners that include the Kenya-based African Academy of Sciences, loomed large at its annual meeting held in Tanzania last month.
There are five RISE networks involving 13 universities and two research institutes in nine African countries, and they have grown over the past five years to involve not only academics but also civil society and industry. The networks select and train students, arrange conferences and exchanges and engage in research.
“The challenge for all of the networks, and for RISE as a whole, will be to raise sufficient funds to continue after grant funding from Carnegie Corporation is no longer available,” RISE Executive Director Arlen Hastings told University World News.
RISE received its first grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 2008-10, the current grant runs from 2011-13, but has indicated that there is a strong likelihood of another round of funding for RISE to go from 2014-2016 .
Five networks were formed: the African Materials Science and Engineering Network; African Natural Products Network; Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products Network; Sub-Saharan Africa Water Resources Network; and Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative.
Each network has a secretariat, an academic director and an administrator, and most have a steering committee. The networks were each given US$800,000 in each three-year-grant, and have also managed to raise additional funds for specific purposes.
RISE students who have completed their degrees have lived up to the ideals of the initiative by not abandoning Africa, said Hastings, who has led the initiative since it started.
They returned to their home universities, have taken up research and teaching positions, and are advising up-and-coming students. A second generation of students is beginning to benefit from RISE – but the initiative’s uncertain future is threatening to reverse its gains.
“The hope is that international and local partnerships nurtured over the years will help generate additional major support,” Hastings said.
RISE students have come from the countries with universities in the networks – Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda – and from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and Zimbabwe.
The aim has been to create a “new type of graduate”, who can bring their findings to bear on local challenges, Hastings explained.
The RISE nodes
The RISE networks will be expected to work with their universities and respective governments to help generate support going into the future.
“It is not always easy,” said Professor John Kabasa, who is director of the African Natural Products Network (AFNET) node of RISE and is based at Makerere University in Uganda. “We continue to work hard to look for opportunities.”
The Carnegie Corporation singled out areas for RISE that were generally neglected and underfunded. “This trend has not improved much, since socio-economic transformation and global economic recession have taken their toll,” Kabasa told University World News.
He said AFNET had established a formal platform for academic, community and public-private partnerships that provide opportunities to work with wider groups of stakeholders.
There are also concerted efforts to link AFNET to regional economic blocks.
Currently AFNET students and staff collaborate with traditional healing groups in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda for research projects. There is an agreement to share findings from the research with healing groups, once it is completed.
Since AFNET started it has had 14 student articles published in international journals, with another 14 under review. More than 20 students have been offered bursaries.
It has been relatively easy for some students to get additional bursaries, and some of the nodes have attracted additional research funds, said Professor Denis Hughes of the Institute for Water Research at Rhodes University in South Africa, who heads the Sub-Saharan Africa Water Resources Network (SSAWRN).
SSAWRN has postgraduate students from several countries and their governments. For instance, most of its students from Mozambique are employees of water commissions in that country, and are working while studying part-time.
When the Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative (WIO-RISE) opened in 2008 it received 100 applications and awarded initially 12 scholarships and then another nine. Seven of its students have graduated and five have had journal articles published.
Dr Maggie Kyewalyanga, of the University of Dar-es-Salaam's Institute of Marine Sciences, said there was a need to link up with governments first and then agencies to attract funds. “We have to sell the good work that Carnegie is doing and also sell our achievements in order to get more support,” she said.
The linkage has been particularly successful in one of the WIO-RISE nodes in Mozambique, where the government has funded the School of Ocean Sciences based at Quelimane, while the Institute of Marine Sciences in Zanzibar has become known for work being done with local women’s groups to cultivate seaweed for sale.
Professor Lesley Cornish, director of the African Materials Science and Engineering Network (AMSEN) who is based at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, said the node had found it fairly easy to raise running expenses and help-in-kind for its projects.
AMSEN has awarded 27 bursaries since it started. Several students who graduated with masters degrees are now enrolled for PhDs. The node has published 13 papers in international journals and raised extra funding of more than US$120,000.
“Although the universities are keen that the programme continues post-Carnegie, it is difficult to raise funds from the respective governments for a network that extends across the different countries,” she told University World News.
The Southern Africa Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products (SABINA) node based at the University of Malawi has succeeded in getting a grant of US$1.3 million from the European Union.
It works with the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa, which has staff among its postgraduate students and has allowed use of its facilities and tea cultivars for research. Another group of students is researching a natural product extract that may help treat HIV-Aids.
Hastings said the strengthening relations with other initiatives in Africa that support postgraduate research and training in science and engineering could help the work of RISE to continue.
RISE has started a formal partnership with the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja, she said, and there are plans to work with the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania, and possibly with the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Hastings said the feasibility of classes at one site being made available by video-conference at others was being explored, and another possible route was to establish exchanges with universities in the US, with African students spending time at American universities and American professors teaching at African universities.
She said some of the research done by the regional initiatives had a strong entrepreneurial component, so product development and commercialisation could also become a source of revenue.
The nodes support one another with the development of joint curricula, co-supervision for students, and access to laboratories at the better-equipped universities in the network.
“Long-term sustainability will depend on generating funds from a variety of sources, potentially including development banks, science agencies, USAID [United States Agency for International Development], foundations and private donors – and we are pursuing all of these,” she said.
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