CANADA-AFRICA: New project links universities to industry

Canada is partnering its universities with members of the Association of African Universities in a programme that aims to forge links between higher education and the private sector. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has launched an initiative that will create 27 new university-industry partnerships, with Canadian and African researchers conducting projects aimed at integrating the chosen African university into a local or regional industry.

The $2.2 million programme is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, the federal arm of the Conservative-led government that has been pushing for more private-sector approaches to areas such as foreign aid.

The organisers of the new programme put out a call last week for proposals and will offer flexible criteria for African universities seeking to participate, according to Margaux Béland, director of partnership programmes at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, or AUCC. She said the African universities need not have a lot of previous industry collaboration in order to be selected.

The AUCC, an association of 94 universities and the Association of African Universities (AAU), with its 250 members, have been sharing information for several years and had been looking for a programme that could fit their mutual goals.

"This was suggested by us and the AAU as an important way for higher education institutions in Africa to have a better role in the national agendas in their countries," said Béland.

She cited the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the OECD-led statement that was signed by over 100 countries, which she said has led a push for various stakeholders, such as universities, to have more of a say in national priorities. "This is not just about advocating for the interests of universities, but for them to help coordinate a national agenda."

AAU Secretary General Goolam Mohamedbhai echoed this in a release: "Universities are critical members of today's knowledge economy," he said. "They not only generate the knowledge and a highly skilled workforce, they also create vital networks that bring people, knowledge and infrastructure together."

The AAU said it approached the AUCC because Canadian universities had successfully pioneered effective linkages with the private sector and other key stakeholders over the past several decades.

The Canadian association has already been involved in 118 University Partnerships in Cooperation and Development (UPCD) projects since 1994, a government-funded programme which is currently under review but has helped build the capacity of educational institutions in developing countries. Béland said the Africa project was a natural extension of that.

In its original proposal to CIDA, the AUCC identified how the programme would help African universities and their countries' economies:

* Developing the skills and creating the knowledge needed to provide effective services to the community and to make sound policy decisions at the government level.

* Creating the knowledge and know-how needed to better understand development challenges and identify locally relevant solutions.

* Training future business leaders, politicians, policy-makers, scientists, teachers and front-line service professionals.

Béland said there were many benefits to universities when they worked closely with industry, from financial support for their research to various businesses providing scholarships for students.

When asked about safeguards for the programme so that industry did not dictate university priorities, Béland said it would be at the institutional level where universities would have to ensure that their strategic plans remained independent.

The programme will be split into three parts.

The first will involve 15 institutional strategic plans, strategies and a training module. The second will provide support to 12 African higher education institutions to highlight proven university-industry linkages in the form of best practice case studies, tools and a training module. And the third will involve a survey that will assess external stakeholder relationships at African universities and their needs, in order to help the AAU strengthen its overall relationships with external stakeholders.

Later this year the AUCC will announce the selected 15 partners for the first phase of the programme.

The project description, guidelines and letter of intent can be found here