Swedish grant to boost university’s postgraduate capacity

Postgraduate education in Ethiopia has received a massive boost following the recent signing of a US$22.5 million five-year agreement between the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and Ethiopia's flagship university aimed at strengthening postgraduate programmes and enhancing local capacity.

The amount, which translates to US$4.5 million each year for the project period of 2018-23, will directly support the training of 100 PhD students at Addis Ababa University (AAU) on fully-funded scholarships. The move is likely to transform the state university into Ethiopia’s main doctoral training and research hub.

The funds will also support training of an additional 60 PhDs who are outside the AAU-SIDA bilateral arrangement, by providing funding for travel and visits by foreign professors to teach and supervise at the institution.

The agreement was signed at a ceremony in Addis Ababa on 7 July by AAU President Tassew Woldehanna and Torbjorn Pettersson, the Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia.

According to Petterson, SIDA has been supporting the university for over 30 years. “As a result of this long-standing support AAU has been benefiting through capacity building in terms of manpower, programme development and infrastructure,” said the ambassador.

Poverty reduction and development

The objective of the latest intervention is “to strengthen the capacities of Ethiopian higher education and research to meet the poverty reduction strategy of the country by supporting PhD programme expansion at Addis Ababa University, to develop and offer multidisciplinary graduate programmes in all relevant fields that are pertinent to the development goals of the nation”, said Alexander Sellerholm, second secretary and programme manager for Research Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs at the Swedish embassy.

In an interview, Sellerholm said there were two facets to the initiative, one to support research, including infrastructure and management, and a second to build institutional co-operation between AAU and Swedish universities.

The first facet includes support for information and communications technology, library facilities, quality assurance processes, university-industry linkages and technology transfer, the development of a gender office, and supervisor training. It will encompass support to the AAU graduate programmes including visiting professors and examiners, as well PhD students’ visits abroad. It will also involve the funding of competitive research grants, according to Sellerholm.

The second facet includes institutional co-operation with Swedish universities centred on areas of comparative international education, business management and economics, biotechnology, and electrical engineering.

Cooperation links will be established with the University of Gothenburg, Jönköping University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

It is this aspect of the programme that will account for the bigger chunk of the US$22.5 million grant, taking up SEK142.7 million, an equivalent of US$16 million, said Sellerholm.

Research hub

“The AAU is the research hub of Ethiopia. Many PhD candidates are accepted from the regional universities; hence by supporting AAU, Sweden indirectly supports the regional universities,” he said.

The fields of academic cooperation, in this case biotechnology, electrical engineering, economics and business management, and education, have been chosen according to priority areas identified by the AAU, and mutually agreed upon with the Swedish universities, the diplomat said.

Similar bilateral programmes that exist with Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and Tanzania will continue and research development cooperation will remain a priority for Sweden, he noted.

Sweden’s focus is to strengthen research that is of high quality and of relevance to poverty reduction and sustainable development in low-income countries, according to Michaela Lundell, a research advisor at SIDA’s Department for Partnerships and Innovations in Stockholm.

Local ownership of research is a strong value for SIDA, she said, adding that in the bilateral research support it is the countries themselves that decided what research was most important to them. In the bilateral agreements, SIDA usually supports one, two or three universities, to build strong research environments, as a heart and a node for the national research system.

The Swedish development agency, she observed, devoted nearly SEK1 billion (US$113 million) each year to support research in low-income countries, a large part of which goes to Africa.