A new model for African partnerships launched

Inspired by the need for a new approach to African partnerships, Michigan State University’s Alliance for African Partnership, or AAP, was launched in Tanzania recently.

Held in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from 18 to 20 July, the AAP launch was hosted by Michigan State University or MSU, the University of Dar es Salaam and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture – also known as RUFORUM.

The alliance is the brainchild of Michigan State University President Lou Anna K Simon, who in May last year brought together 14 African participants including government officials, university faculty and vice-chancellors, non-profit directors and other professionals from nine countries on the continent. Four MSU MasterCard Foundation Scholars represented the voices of African youth.

The leaders analysed their strengths, weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats that African institutions face in research and development.

“We came up with a programme designed to develop research links between African organisations, including universities, think tanks, and research institutes. How international universities like ours can add value and enter into mutually beneficial partnerships was also discussed,” Thomas Jayne, co-director of AAP, told University World News.

“We should not think of capacity development as a one-way street,” Jayne said. “We don’t have the answers, but we have the clues and we want to explore and get input from prominent African leaders so that we can co-create these partnerships.”

Changing landscape

According to Jayne, MSU identified a need for a new approach to African partnership as the landscape had changed dramatically.

“The 1980s model needs to change; there is a lot more capacity, donors are willing to give more towards research in Africa and African governments are now more proactive in supporting research by their own researchers.

“We want to help African organisations to respond more effectively in sustainable and equitable partnerships,” said Jayne.

Michigan State University in the United States, itself a land-grant university, has a long history of working with Africa dating back to the opening of Africa’s first land-grant university, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1960.

Study abroad programmes

Today, Michigan State University has more than 200 faculty and staff engaged in research, teaching and development cooperation in nearly every African country. The university has more study abroad programmes in Africa than any other US university at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

“We are about accommodating people; we were created for those who did not have a voice. What we learnt made the difference in the way people lived and enhanced the quality of life through liberal arts and traditional humanities,” said June Youatt, provost and executive vice-president for academic affairs at MSU.

Professor Ddumba-Ssentamu, vice-chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda, said since the 1990s his university had been engaged in partnerships that were geared towards staff exchanges, private sector collaboration and improving the student quality.

But the partnership between the business community and the university had not been very strong, partly as a result of limited industrial development in Uganda. Partnerships with government, on the other hand, had been good, particularly with regard to government-funded innovation in food technology.

Ddumba-Ssentamu said international partnerships geared towards curriculum development based on research conducted at Makerere University had been doing well.

“None of our partners has imposed their agenda on us,” he said.

He said the university has also managed to build trust and accountability with international funders while creating an environment for the sustainability of programmes.

Interim Vice-chancellor at the University of Botswana Kgomotso Moahi said most partnerships at her university – promoted in earnest in 2006 when the institution opened an International Office – are with European rather than African universities.

“In my experience, many of the partnerships that thrived were those that were started by individual staff members, as opposed to those signed at lavish ceremonies,” Moahi said, emphasising the importance of owning the programme at grassroots.

Lack of capacity

Highlighting the problem of capacity, she said her institution lacked sufficient faculty for all programmes.

“Out of 500 members of staff only 150 have PhDs. We don’t have the capacity to develop leaders… How can we share the capacity we have with other institutions because at the end of the day not all universities will have enough staff,” she said.

According to Rwekaza Mukandala, vice-chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, scholarship was by definition a “collective effort” and efforts should be made to facilitate it.

The University of Dar es Salaam was founded as a collaborative effort between east African countries and the University of London. The university pursued a strong agenda of internationalism, but during the financial difficulties of the 1980s and 1990s collaboration became costly and the institution struggled to support staff exchanges, both regionally and internationally.

The result, Mukandala said, was a current crop of Tanzanian intellectuals who are less exposed to international collaboration.

He said there was a need for ownership of partnerships at a grassroots level. Openness and transparency regarding sources of funding were also key, he said.

Macki Samake, rector of the University of Arts and Humanities of Bamako in Mali, said he saw partnerships as a vital means of ensuring the viability of his institution, which opened in 2011 in a country facing a financial crisis as a result of terrorism.