Regional climate change masters curriculum launched

An innovative new regional masters curriculum in climate change and sustainable development, which aims to educate and train new generations of researchers, practitioners and decision-makers in the Southern African region to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time, was launched in Pretoria in South Africa last week.

The curriculum, which represents the Southern African region’s first open access, inter-discipliinary masters curriculum and courseware, was developed by a collective of seven Southern African universities from five countries that came together through the Southern African Regional Universities Association or SARUA.

The curriculum, which emphasises co-production of knowledge and skills and competencies as key outcomes, is due to be rolled out next year.

The product of six years’ preparatory work on the part of SARUA with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, the curriculum marks a pioneering step towards regional collaboration among academic institutions in the region, according to a press release.

The collective includes the Open University of Tanzania, Rhodes University in South Africa, Eduardo Mondlane University of Mozambique, the University of Mauritius, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, the University of Namibia and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the latter being the coordinating university.

The initiative forms part of the SARUA climate change and development programme, which is designed to build the capacity of the region’s universities to respond comprehensively and innovatively to the region’s climate change challenges via research, teaching, community engagement and policy outreach contributions.

Climate change has been identified as a significant threat to Southern Africa in particular, given the relatively high poverty levels and lack of development which prevails in the region. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Working Group II Report has estimated that Africa will experience adaptation costs of between US$20 billion and US$30 billion a year over the next decade, up to US$60 billion a year by 2030.

Regional collaboration

“The project is a great demonstration of our ability to collaborate in higher and tertiary education,” said Professor Primrose Kurasha, vice-chancellor of the Zimbabwe Open University and chairperson of SARUA, who spoke at the programme’s launch in Pretoria on Thursday evening.

The masters curriculum consists of three core modules, four elective modules and a research project.

It has been designed to allow individual universities to adapt the curriculum to their own needs and context.

The initiative includes an online platform for publishing and learning to develop a strong understanding of the knowledge, teaching, research and outreach implications of the external climate change development context in which each of the various contributors operate.

Behavioural change

“Our ultimate aim is to achieve long-term and lasting behavioural changes when it comes to dealing with and managing the issues of climate change. This curriculum is our starting point,” said Kurasha.

“Many players were involved in drafting the curriculum – seven universities from five countries – and input has been received from over 100 strong regional review groups. Several curriculum development workshops were held across the region and focused on how the seven-module curriculum and courseware could be used and adapted for the different users in higher education.

“SARUA hosted two such workshops with 84 lecturers from 22 universities in September and November 2016 alone – that shows the capacity we have in the region,” she said.

Mapping study

In October 2010, SARUA held a leadership dialogue at the University of Mauritius to discuss the impacts of climate change on Southern Africa. Vice-chancellors agreed that universities could make a significant contribution to building the resilience of the region. A working group of deputy vice-chancellors was then tasked to develop a strategy and source funding for the plan to come up with the programme.

Rhodes University’s Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka who was part of the process since inception and was a co-author of the SARUA Climate Change Counts mapping study, said the study was a significant milestone in the development of the curriculum.

"It's an amazing analysis of what the Southern African people are doing in the universities, a very important resource for all of us, said Lotz-Sisitka.

The mapping study, which was the first of its kind on the continent, if not the world, was the result of consultative workshops with academics as well as policy-makers, NGOs and community members in each SADC – Southern African Development Community – country. Stakeholders engaged not only with what was being taught in universities, but also with what needed to be taught, and what people knew about conditions in their countries.

“If you want to know who is doing what in Southern Africa in terms of climate change, it's in the mapping study. You can find professors across all of our universities doing incredibly innovative work. It highlights the fact that many of us don't know about each other. In Namibia there are sociologists working on climate change and gender issues, and in the University of Zambia there are some incredible academics working on the impact of climate change on malaria, health and water,” Lotz-Sisitka said.