Launch of Africa’s first centre for Silk Road studies

Africa’s first institutionalised centre dedicated exclusively to studying all initiatives related to the Silk Road – the historical trade route connecting East and Southeast Asia with Africa, West Asia and Europe – will be established in Egypt to serve as a regional platform for Chinese and African studies.

The Center for Silk Road Studies (CSRS) was launched in January 2019, according to a press statement by Egypt’s higher education and scientific research ministry.

The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe through which Chinese silk, salt, sugar, spices, ivory, jade, fur and other luxury goods were traded. The Silk Road covered a distance of 4,000 miles (6,437 km) and connected more than 40 countries.

The CSRS will have two branches – in Ain Shams University in Cairo and the People’s University of China in Beijing.

While aimed primarily at promoting the multidisciplinary collaboration necessary for Silk Road research and policy issues through quarterly reports in the fields of economy, politics, law, social sciences, energy and agriculture, the CSRS will also offer regular undergraduate and postgraduate educational programmes as well as supervision of masters and doctoral theses.

The CSRS will also promote academic partnerships with Egyptian and African universities to develop initiatives for advancing research and outreach in Silk Road studies as well as promote individual, collaborative and interdisciplinary scholarship through seminars, workshops, conferences and fellowships.

Further joint institutes

Last year, China’s Ministry of Education approved a China-Morocco joint institute to be built by northwest China’s Ningxia University and Morocco’s University of Hassan I focussing on “Belt and Road” studies, serving China-Morocco trade and cooperation as well as enhancing higher education cooperation between the two countries.

In addition to a proposed branch campus called the China Shenyang University of Chemical Technology Nigeria, the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company, in cooperation with China’s Central South University, will also set up a Nigeria-based transportation university to focus on the manpower requirements of the transport sector.

Huawei’s Academy for Information and Communication Technology will be established at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

International organisations for Silk Road studies include the UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform. Several silk road research centres and institutes have been established in the United States, Canada, Turkey, Pakistan, Cambodia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, according to Silk Road Research


“The Belt and Road initiative has the potential to open up educational opportunities for millions of people and particular benefits could accrue to currently marginalised groups on the economic, political or linguistic fringes, as new infrastructure enhances their status, social mobility and life chances,” Professor Bob Adamson, chair of curriculum reform and director for the Centre for Lifelong Learning Research and Development at the Education University of Hong Kong, told University World News.

“The initiative will require people with multilingual skills, not just in major international languages but also regional and local ones, intercultural skills and attitudes, specialist knowledge and entrepreneurship and resilience,” said Adamson, who also holds a UNESCO chair in TVET and lifelong learning.

“A major challenge lies in creating the formal and informal education systems that support people in developing these skills, attitudes and areas of expertise,” said Adamson.

Style of collaboration

Gao Jie, assistant professor in the department of political science of the National University of Singapore, told University World News challenges depended on styles of collaboration.

For programmes such as student exchanges, the recruitment of students and education collaborations in overseas campuses can be more challenging, said Jie.

“Although China has a strong motivation to promote such educational collaborations, to what extent the countries in the Silk Road have similar needs may vary,” Jie said.

Collaboration should start with common interests, and this means “putting aside political or ideological differences to understand the real needs of both sides and seek collaboration that can benefit each other”.