20 October 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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Producing postgraduates for sustainable development

An Education for Sustainable Development in Africa – ESDA – initiative with a three-pronged masters programme is helping to build the next generation of researchers and leaders skilled in sustainable development. The project, supported by Japan and involving eight universities in five African countries, has kicked off after years of planning and development.

ESDA started in 2008 as a project of United Nations University, or UNU, to develop a programme for sustainable development and test it jointly with eight African universities. In 2011, the African universities and UNU signed an agreement on implementing, monitoring and evaluating the ESDA programmes.

The project has resulted in the creation of three masters programmes in: sustainable urban development; sustainable integrated rural development in Africa; and mining and mineral resources.

Six of the eight universities started to implement the programme this year and others will do so at a later stage.

The universities are Cape Town in South Africa, Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Ibadan in Nigeria, the University of Zambia, and in Ghana the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the University for Development Studies.

They are supported in running the programme by UNU’s Institute of Sustainability and Peace, UNESCO and UN-Habitat.

Other institutions involved are Japan’s universities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Kyushu, and from Europe the University of Agder and Karlstad University.

An ESDA steering team led by Professor Stephen Simukanga, vice-chancellor of the University of Zambia, takes decisions on strategic issues, project activities, and budgetary and other matters.

The Japanese government provided seed funding for the project of around US$1 million, and more funding was received from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, and the African Development Bank. The African universities are contributing in kind, especially through the provision of staff time and meeting facilities.

The programme

Nagao Masafumi, ESDA project leader and a professor at the University of Tokyo, told delegates attending the 4th Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture – RUFORUM – held from 19-25 July in Maputo, Mozambique, that African universities were intent on establishing a common postgraduate programme on sustainable development.

The impact of the programme would be substantial. “There is limited utility of imported models for training but we ensure that we adapt it to local conditions,” said Masafumi.

The project was anchored on improving existing postgraduate offerings in partner universities rather than creating totally new courses.

ESDA, he added, had also created mechanisms for inter-university sharing of complementary strengths among the partner universities in order to enrich the programmes.

Appropriate skills

Masafumi said a component of the field-oriented programmes was designed to strengthen the problem-solving capacities and inter-personal work skills of postgraduate students.

In many African universities, a major shortcoming of existing programmes was a heavy focus on classroom or desk-level learning, with limited practical exposure to developmental realities in a community or industry setting. “We’re trying to change that,” he said.

The courses are being instituted in a way that will take postgraduate students into the field to address practical issues that relate to sustainable development concerns in communities that they are familiar with and understand, Masafumi explained.

The African universities participating in ESDA are at various stages of development in using information and communication technology for research and education. There is deliberate use of ICTs to promote inter-university collaboration among the partner universities.

The project was designed not only for African students, but also for students from outside Africa who are interested in contributing to sustainable development on the continent. The programmes have also been formulated to accommodate students from other African universities willing to enrol in one of the partner institutions.

It is hoped that the programme will continue to run long after its initial years. “It is perhaps useless to speculate how ESDA will look after 10 years,” said Masafumi.

“However, one thing is certain: if ESDA continues to operate more or less according to the present design, it will have instructed and graduated more than 1,000 young people aspiring to work for Africa’s sustainable development.”
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