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A climate change curriculum for Southern Africa

Having completed the first phase of a programme that produced a comprehensive climate change mapping study, the Southern African Regional Universities Association – SARUA – is about to embark on the second phase.

The Climate and Development Knowledge Network, or CDKN, will provide funding for a curriculum innovation network, including how to link this with capacity development of lecturers working in climate change-related disciplines.

"CDKN is proud to be supporting SARUA in the next phase of its Climate Change and Capacity Development Programme,” said Carl Wesselink, CDKN Africa regional director. “Universities play a key role in building the evidence base for more informed policy decision-making and for educating future decision-makers.

“Our support will be focused on developing a regional, flexible climate change curriculum for the SADC region that will build capacity and unlock Southern Africa's ability to tackle the multiple challenges brought about by climate change,” said Wesselink.

The “Climate Change Counts” mapping study and subsequent Knowledge Co-Production Framework document, produced by SARUA to inform regional collaboration on climate change, provided a solid starting point for its five-year programme on climate change and development.

The mapping study involved a needs analysis and an institutional assessment, focused on the higher education sector and undertaken on a country-by-country basis, bringing together information from 12 countries across a multiplicity of disciplines.

“By making the results of the mapping study available, SARUA is providing a platform for self-organised knowledge sharing and collaboration among universities on the issue of climate change,” said Piyushi Kotecha, CEO of SARUA.

“The mapping study signifies the completion of the first phase of the project. As the next phase of the project SARUA will be coordinating a formal process of network development.”

As recommended by the mapping study, SARUA will launch an expression of interest process for the development of a curriculum innovation network – as it is this curriculum innovation network that at this stage has attracted the interest and support of CDKN.

Needs analysis

The needs analysis included in the mapping study identified knowledge and research needs, and institutional and individual capacity gaps relevant to climate change – and the Knowledge Co-Production Framework discusses these needs in detail.

The lack of national institutional capacity for climate change, including a lack of support for climate change research and development, are arguably the most significant needs. This highlights the appropriateness of the SARUA mapping study and proposed regional research support programme.

Within higher education institutions, the urgent need for mainstreaming climate change into undergraduate and postgraduate curricula across faculties and departments was emphasised, firstly to create awareness of knowledge (and research) gaps, and then to develop research interest and capacity in filling the gaps.

All countries tended to identify a range of knowledge gaps within the agriculture, food security, natural resources management, health and energy priority areas.

In some cases, research capacity on climate change, speaking broadly, simply does not exist, while in others it is a question of an insufficient level of up-to-date knowledge in certain specialised areas.

There is a mismatch between the skills of graduates and market demands – this is a general shortcoming, not restricted to responding to climate change. One example, across a range of scientific disciplines, was that graduates are not being provided with practical skills. This relates to the availability of funding for higher education, and is a broad and complex issue.

A common theme from all countries was that existing mechanisms and capacity are insufficient to deal with complex and diverse climate issues, which will require a strategic, coordinated and harmonised approach. The key implications arising from the needs analysis are:

  • The call for a strategic and integrated approach.
  • The call to give attention to the capacity building of research, environmental education and training professionals at all levels.

Institutional assessment

The institutional assessment conducted as part of the mapping study identified existing research, teaching and community and policy outreach activities associated with climate compatible development in Southern African Development Community, or SADC, universities.

It identified research networks, nodes of expertise, existing centres of expertise and centres of excellence for climate change and climate compatible development knowledge co-production.

The institutional assessment also reviewed the current institutional context of climate compatible development at a SADC level, and the role of universities in development.

Additionally it highlighted a number of institutional aspects that influence the possibilities for climate change knowledge co-production related especially to research, curriculum innovation, university policy and community outreach.

Strategic direction

The Knowledge Co-Production Framework provides strategic design suggestions for the SARUA climate change programme, and sets out seven proposed research themes, arising from the mapping study findings.

“We have disseminated the findings of the mapping study and the Knowledge Co-Production Framework very widely in the region,” said Kotecha. “The strategic design suggestions and the proposed research themes will now be considered and refined by the SARUA executive and universities, as one of the key next steps.”

The framework further focuses on the key areas investigated in the mapping study, and for which recommendations are made: curriculum development and innovation, community and policy outreach, and higher education policy and strategy.

The document states: “Within the context of urgency for action on climate change, Southern African countries will need to step up existing efforts to make development more resilient according to national needs and priorities.

“In the context of the international climate negotiations process, all countries will need to develop ‘national offers’ or contributions for emissions reduction proposals, as well as set out actions for adaptation. These will provide a way to link the 2015 international climate agreement more closely to domestic debates and national circumstances.

“All of this will entail significant regional preparation, underpinned by action-oriented research. As the mapping study has found, developing capacity for the research to assist in unlocking all this will require strengthening individual disciplines, as well as building research capabilities and removing barriers, including through institutional reform.

“It will also require concerted effort to enhance the climate change-related competences, knowledge and expertise of those who will develop and deliver many of the capacity development initiatives – the researchers, educators, trainers and their partners.”

The authors of the document concede that, while climate-related capacity and research development needs are many, there are existing nodes and centres of expertise that can play a strong role in further developing research and teaching capacities to address the identified priorities and gaps.

“What is required is a strategic approach that builds upon existing expertise, addresses the most pressing shared priorities while allowing for local specificities, and assists the countries and the region to do so in a way that also positions themselves better for the potential opportunities inherent in the unfolding international architecture of climate agreements and funding institutions.”

To this end, a set of proposed priority research themes, to be addressed through regional research clusters, has been developed, which also link to wider research agendas that are being put forward under, for example, the Future Earth Global Sustainability Research Plan.

Overall, the vision of the SARUA programme is to create a system of knowledge co-production that provides Southern African researchers opportunities for capacity building and relevant, high quality knowledge production.

Related Links
Study spurs action on climate change in Southern Africa
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