Michigan State University’s new initiative, the Alliance for African Partnership or AAP, has raised interest among vice-chancellors across Africa, who hope to address some of their research and teaching challenges through partnerships.
The Alliance, seen by its creators as a work in progress, aims to promote sustainable, effective and equitable partnerships between African organisations, Michigan State University or MSU, and other international organisations to address mutually defined challenges affecting Africa and the world. It recognises that universities and research institutions in Africa face common problems in a familiar environment, yet hardly work with each other.
Six thematic areas are earmarked for attention. These are the transformation of agri-food systems, water energy and environment, youth empowerment, education, culture, and health and nutrition.
Jamie Monson, AAP co-director and head of the MSU African Studies Center, said all the work is anchored on three pillars: building bridges, transforming institutions and transforming lives.
Against the backdrop of MSU’s long history of working with African researchers, MSU Provost June Youatt said the basis for strong partnership is a relationship.
“The alliance provides a platform from which to appreciate those relationships and what they have learned from these and how the relationships have enriched MSU,” she said.
“We have also learned from our partnerships and our challenges and aspirations are often aligned,” she said
Egerton University in Kenya, headed by Professor Rose Mwonya, is hoping to secure partners in sports science owing to its high altitude, as well as programmes with local pastoral farmers, while at Laikipia University, also in Kenya, there are hopes to strengthen the graduate school while collaborating with industry partners.
Professor Al Mtenje of University of Malawi said internationalisation had been one of the key pillars of the institution’s strategic plan. The university wants to establish more partnerships to boost production of postgraduate programmes.
“It is through partnerships that we can promote intra-African collaboration and realign in order to advance our research agendas. These collaborations and networks can assist us to do joint research, staff exchanges, as well as have access to external examiners from established partners and adjunct professors for doctoral programmes,” said Mtenje.
The University of Malawi was gradually moving away from being a largely teaching university to becoming a research intensive university and needed to increase its offering of postgraduate programmes, he said.
Vice-chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda, Professor John Ddumba-Ssentamu, said his institution hopes for collaborations that will help it become a research-intensive university that helps to improve the lives of rural people.
Former executive director of the African Academy of Sciences, Berhanu Abegaz, said: “Our major concern has been how to promote intra-African collaboration and really project [the institution] into the future and see what the key strategic steps are that need to be taken to grow Africa’s future research leaders.”
“Building research capacity should be an explicit goal for the university,” said Kweku Bentil, vice-provost of the Aga Khan University in East Africa, adding that research oriented partnerships were doing better than others.
“The challenge is we do not have sufficient faculty for all the disciplines. We need to strengthen our partnerships on graduate training to develop doctoral training to improve our research capacity,” he said.
Macki Samake, associate professor of linguistics and deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Letters and Human Sciences of Bamako, Mali, said owing to massification the institution now had 6,000 students but only 16 PhD-holders, with the majority of lecturers holding masters degrees.
Africa’s language barriers
A representative from the University of Lomé, Togo, said there were few French-speaking representatives attending the meeting, demonstrating the depth of the [language] problem in Africa. “We have little collaboration among ourselves because of the language barrier,” he said.
“For instance, we are close to Ghana but we have no collaboration with them because of language. We collaborate a lot with European universities; out of 70 scholarly partnerships, 40 of these are international and 13 are African.”
In pursuance of improved partnerships, two memoranda of understanding were signed at the conference.
Professor Lumkile Lalendle, vice-rector of teaching and learning at North West University, South Africa, told University World News that the institution had signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Dar es Salaam in areas including media studies and crop science, with a view to conducting joint research at postgraduate level and staff exchanges.
“It is important to create partnerships with reputable institutions worldwide because no one institution can address these challenges alone. By bringing different expertise we will maximise impact,” said Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie, executive secretary of the Harare-based African Capacity Building Foundation, or ACBF, after signing an MOU with AAP in Tanzania.
He said the ACBF will develop programmes jointly with AAP, conduct research on Africa development and look at uptake of related policies across the continent.
“We will work together to strengthen universities’ work in the region, network with institutions across the world and regional economic blocs, and strengthen think tanks in Africa particularly in agriculture, Nnadozie told University World News. “We will bring our resources to develop and implement the programmes.”
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