South Korean institutes join skills development partnership

Two leading South Korean research institutes have formalised their commitment to helping Sub-Saharan Africa build greater capacity in science and technology in the region, according to World Bank officials.

At a meeting held on 28 November in Kigali, Rwanda, the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology, or PASET, board of directors welcomed the Korea Development Institute – the country’s leading economic think tank – as a full member, recognising the support already provided by the institute towards building a stronger African workforce in science and technology.

PASET also signed an agreement with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology to improve the quality of PhD programmes in African institutions selected under its flagship initiative, the PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund.

The Republic of Korea’s Seoul National University, along with Maastricht University from the Netherlands, are expected to sign similar agreements in coming weeks, according to a World Bank statement.

‘A great milestone’

“We see PASET’s partnership with South Korea as a great milestone in our quest to build African universities into regional centres of scientific innovation,” said Dr Papias Musafiri Malimba, Rwanda’s Minister for Education, who hosted the meeting in the Rwandan capital.

“Sub-Saharan Africa can learn a lot from South Korea’s unique path to development, and Rwanda, along with its African partners, is ready to implement these lessons by growing its investment in higher education in applied sciences, engineering and technology fields,” he added.

PASET, an initiative of the World Bank, was launched in 2013 by African governments to address systemic gaps in skills and knowledge in the applied sciences, engineering and technology, and to build African institutions’ capacity to train high quality technicians, engineers and scientists.

Since then, over 20 African countries, the private sector, as well as representatives of Brazil, China, India and South Korea have participated in its activities. The governments of Senegal, Rwanda and Ethiopia have taken the lead by seeding the scholarship and innovation fund, and have been joined by Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire.

The board includes ministers from Rwanda, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as representatives from the World Bank. The partnership functions as a convening platform by bringing together African governments and the private sector as well as new partner countries which have invested in Africa.

Some of the universities that will benefit from the new partnership include Université Felix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte d’Ivoire, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Gaston Berger University in Senegal, and the African University of Science and Technology in Nigeria.

Building on past support

South Korean authorities have been supportive of PASET since its inception, actively engaging in knowledge sharing at its regional forums, especially through the Korea Development Institute, which facilitated the connections with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology and Seoul National University.

The development institute also launched a three-year knowledge-sharing programme to strengthen some PASET member countries’ policy-making capacity in human resources development in science and technology.

“At the current pace of technology development and transfer, combined with the spread of the global community, countries cannot achieve development in isolation,” said Joon-Kyung Kim, president of the Korea Development Institute.

For years, Kim said, the institute has enabled government personnel from developing countries to study in South Korea and share “our development experience”.

“We are proud to now be a part of PASET’s journey to train next-generation leaders in Africa,” he said.

Critical mass of researchers

According to officials, both the Korea Institute of Science and Technology and Seoul National University have extensive experience in enhancing global scientific research capabilities. Their collaboration with PASET, accompanied by Maastricht University, will build a critical mass of African researchers and personnel through PhD training, exchange of researchers, joint innovation projects, and capacity development for African universities.

Dr Byung Gwon Lee, president of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, said PASET provides a unique opportunity to South Korea and its African partners in forming “a mutually beneficial partnership, based on understanding, trust, and a desire to share scientific knowledge”.

The board meeting also shared updates with members on progress against its annual work plan goals, specifically on the operationalisation of the PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund. The fund envisages a two-stage competitive selection of African universities, followed by selection of PhD scholars.

Board officials said evaluation of university proposals by independent experts was now complete, and final university names would be announced in the coming weeks. The first cohort of scholars is to be admitted in September 2017.

Strengthening PhD programmes

Meanwhile, the selected universities will strengthen their PhD programmes through joint curriculum development and faculty training projects with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Maastricht University, Seoul National University and other international partners.

The board also approved 10 members for PASET’s consultative advisory group, a voluntary group of expert advisors, which include African and non-African experts with experience in leading applied science, engineering and technology programmes in higher education and technical-vocational education, as well as private sector representatives.

The board also reviewed a strategy to mobilise the private sector to support PASET’s objectives through training, research and innovation support.

“This meeting marked several new leaps forward by PASET, which is now fully off the ground,” said Professor Aminata Sall Diallo, head of PASET's executive committee.

“Our new partners and members will bring us closer to achieving our goal of building African universities into regional powerhouses of science and technology resources for the continent,” she said.

Kenya is to host the next forum in April 2017.