Agricultural PhD programme picks new crop of candidates
The programme, run by the Makerere University-based Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture, or RUFORUM, in collaboration with the German Academic Exchange Services, or DAAD, kicks off this month. This year’s awardees represent the sixth cohort of beneficiaries and will bring the total number of doctoral trainees to 29. They are drawn from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
Focusing on four disciplines – food science and human nutrition, agricultural and rural innovation, life sciences, and plant breeding and biotechnology – the programme aims to improve the capacity of universities to train skilled problem-solvers and generate relevant outputs, according to Sylvia Mkandawire, programme manager for training and quality assurance at RUFORUM.
Many studies, she said, have identified gaps and limited capacities in these disciplines to effectively managing research, training and outreach programmes in Africa.
“[It] is expected to build a critical mass of agricultural scientists to support the generation of knowledge and innovations for development in Africa,” she said.
According to Mkandawire, the programme emphasises in-region mobility of students, enabling them to take courses not available at their home institutions, while at the same time providing for some in-country scholarships, in order to maintain a balance.
Emphasis in the course is both theoretical and practical. Regional programme students benefit from a one-year taught coursework, taught at the host institution to boost theoretical understanding. Recognising the variety of educational backgrounds represented by potential students who are from all over Africa, the course work is critical for ensuring that all students begin research with a strong theoretical background, said Mkandawire.
The programme is being implemented within the RUFORUM member universities. In 2013, member universities signed a memorandum of understanding with RUFORUM to jointly escalate postgraduate training in Africa. In terms of this memorandum, member universities agreed to waive education-related costs to allow training of staff at another member university in a cost-shared manner. This arrangement significantly reduces the cost of training within Africa.
Students recruited through in-region and in-country programmes are expected to complete the PhD programme within three years. Upon completion of the coursework and approval of their research proposal, they are allowed to conduct research either in their home countries or host university institutions.
Attempts are made to link the students’ research to the specific research needs of their country of origin. The arrangement gives the students opportunities to conduct research that addresses the needs of their home countries and to integrate the research recommendation effectively for the betterment of the communities they serve.
In addition to academic supervisors at host institutions, the students are also mentored by experts from the home country so as to keep them up to date with current trends in research back home and to ensure that the research remains relevant to the home institution. According to Mkandawire, this increases the chances of students settling down in their home institution upon completion to work on an issue of national importance.