Ongoing partnership helps engineers tackle local needs

The United Kingdom's Royal Academy of Engineering is looking to team up with more Sub-Saharan African universities in a programme aimed at forging links between universities and the private sector.

The Higher Education Partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa programme (HEP SSA) is supported by the Anglo American Group Foundation and the UK government through the Global Challenges Research Fund established by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2016.

The programme aims to improve teaching quality, strengthen industry-academia partnership and create graduates that possess the skills needed for industry, said Sebastian Scott, programme manager for HEP SSA at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“It is widely accepted that engineering is a driver of economic development for any country and HEP SSA supports universities within Sub-Saharan Africa, not only to develop their own teaching capacity but to help train local African engineers to address challenges experienced in their own communities,” Scott told University World News.

The pilot scheme, Enriching Engineering Education, which ran from 2013-2015, made the University of Zimbabwe and the College of Engineering and Technology at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania ‘hub’ universities.

The programme brought engineering curricula in universities in line with current industrial practice, and improved teaching practices in engineering through a structured partnership between universities and industry.

Following the pilot, the University of Botswana, Moi University in Kenya, University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Makerere in Uganda and Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology were selected as hubs in 2016.

In 2017, the University of Malawi – the Polytechnic, University of Zambia, University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria and University of Namibia were selected as centres.

Scott said HEP SSA is currently funding nine universities, indirectly supporting an additional 55, as well as 124 local and regional industries. Since 2016 over 1,500 teaching staff and over 1,400 students have taken part in secondments, workshops, guest lectures and training sessions.

“Engineering teaching must be applied to real life and needs to be more hands-on. Students are the next generation of Africa’s engineers and should play a pivotal role in redesigning engineering education and programmes such as HEP SSA must always remain needs-led,” he said.

For example, what works well in Namibia, may not work as well in Nigeria as they are very different countries with very different needs. The academy works closely with its partners to ensure that each project it funds addresses the individual needs and issues facing that region, community and country, he said.

“Since its pilot launch in 2013, HEP SSA has evolved to reflect the changing needs of engineering education and we have since introduced UK partners to build collaborative academic partnerships and develop joint engineering research projects,” Scott said.

HEP SSA now has a bigger emphasis on collaborative formal partnerships between African academia and African industry to ensure more sustainable and united engineering development within the continent, he said.

The institutions that are selected for the programme not only receive funding and support from the academy and its extended networks, but the students and staff gain experience through partnerships with local industry to create real changes within their communities.

For example, through the programme the University of Dar es Salaam has established an innovation and entrepreneur centre to equip its students and staff with the skills needed to create jobs in Tanzania, and at the University of Zimbabwe a team of three technicians, alongside a team of students, were able to use their experience from a secondment at a local water company to establish a self-sufficient and clean water supply for the university on a very small budget.

“The aim of HEP SSA is to enable the higher education system to produce engineers with the skills and knowledge required to meet the needs of industry, tackle local challenges and address the engineering skills shortage in Sub-Saharan Africa. We believe it is doing just that,” he said.

* The HEP SSA programme has now reopened for universities to apply for 2018 for a two-year grant funding totalling up to £140,000 (US$185,000).