Partnership to transform agricultural education
It is seeking to transform agriculture into a vibrant sector linked to African universities that can produce high-performing graduates and high-quality research.
This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.
The eight-year programme backed with US$27.1 million from The MasterCard Foundation was launched during the Fifth African Higher Education Week and the RUFORUM Biennial Conference held from 17-21 October at the Century City Conference Centre, Cape Town, South Africa.
Aligned to the anticipated boost in agriculture, the meeting, attended by vice-chancellors from more than 60 universities in Africa, among the 700 delegates, had as its theme, “Linking agricultural universities with the civil society, the private sector, governments and other stakeholders in support of agricultural development”.
New agriculture model
“This is an exciting opportunity for RUFORUM to strengthen agriculture in Africa, by connecting to empower all players, learning institutions, agriculture communities and the private sector to connect knowledge needed to boost the sector,” Peter Materu, director, education and learning, The MasterCard Foundation, told University World News.
There has been a lot of knowledge that has not been connected for the benefit of society, said Materu, adding that smallholder farmers will be the main feature of this programme as they have often been left out in the past. Also, rising food demands make urban agriculture even more necessary.
A new agriculture curriculum for universities was critical in absorbing and feeding the burgeoning youthful population across the continent, he said.
There were a lot of young people between 15 and 24 years of age in Africa, a figure expected to double by 2050, pushing the demand for jobs and food even higher. The most affected were typically the poor youth, he said. At a time when urban migration and youth poverty in urban centres are increasing because economies in countries are not growing, agriculture could be a solution to the problem.
“There is a need to do more to increase the productivity of agriculture and the universities have a role to play,” said Materu, adding that connecting university education to the needs of the agriculture communities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development was never more relevant than now.
The curriculum will have to be tailored to meet these needs, he said, and a lot of knowledge exists on how communities, universities and industry can best interact, but much of the knowledge is not fully utilised on how these groups can work together to strengthen agriculture.
RUFORUM has a network that supports some universities and it will reach many more universities and also attract other institutions, said Materu.
“We anticipate that RUFORUM will be open to knowledge from institutions in the world that have been working with communities in agriculture so that we can fast-track this training,” he said.
The practical component will be stronger in the programme as students will have the opportunity to work with farmers in the community, Materu added. “Studying and working in an environment in which the farmers work will help famers to improve,” he said.
Recruitment of students
Dr Anthony Egeru, regional coordinator of The MasterCard Foundation and RUFORUM project, said the recruitment of students with a passion for agriculture starts in December and selected students will go through orientation for a month in June-July before university starts.
A total of 210 students, 110 undergraduates and 110 postgraduates, who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will be trained. 70% of recruits will come from countries where early adopter universities of the new model are based and 30% are expected to come from countries that are in difficult circumstances.
“They will strive for gender equity, with 60% of women being recruited,” Materu said.
Gulu University in Uganda and Egerton University in Kenya have been named the early adopters of the programme.
“These universities have already been collecting information and researching the needs of farming communities and educating students while they work with farmers, which made them a leading choice to run the pilot,” said Egeru.
Yet another opportunity for transformative action research will come from using the expanded RUFORUM Community Action Research Programme, or CARP, to enrich university-led community impact. CARP will extend to include technical and vocational education and training institutions to improve joint work between colleges and universities.
Transformation through internationalisation
The initial focus of the programme is not about internationalisation of higher education but making sure African universities have greater focus on meaningful contribution to development, said Egeru.
But internationalisation will occur through the knowledge transfer process as the programmes developed by Gulu and Egerton universities scale up, he explained.
To enrich the programme, partnerships will be forged with various global institutions that are running advanced programmes similar to those under discussion, such as Earth University in Costa Rica, Entrepreneurship for Impact Foundation based in Italy and Harvard University.
“So parts of the programme will begin to internationalise even if it is just for the content of one course,” Egeru said, adding that the idea is to ensure that students will benefit from leadership training that will make them the next generation of agricultural leaders.
He said the key component of entrepreneurship will be strengthened in universities, through a competitive entrepreneurship challenge fund, and this will be done in a way that allows students to write and test their business proposals.
“The students will not only become thought leaders, they will become part of the key component on entrepreneurship which will extend to universities through the entrepreneurship challenge fund, which will catalyse entrepreneurship training in universities,” Egeru told University World News.
The fund will cater for learning experiences that simulate a real business environment and so students will learn about issues such as how to pay tax and the ethics of doing business.
He added that a portion of the US$27.1 million will be open to other universities through a challenge fund to offer the same type of training.
The MasterCard Foundation has invested US$300 million in agriculture-related programmes across Africa, as RUFORUM positions itself to share best practices in Africa. Materu said: “We in the Foundation take agriculture seriously as it has the potential to secure jobs for the young and secure livelihoods for the future.”