ARUA conference 2019 – Preparing for ‘the revolution’

How can African universities lead the way in preparing their societies for the fourth industrial revolution? How can they prepare students? And what kind of research will support the production of goods and services and mitigate the fallout of the new revolution? These are some of the pressing questions that will be tackled at the upcoming international conference of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

The call for papers for the November conference and workshops to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, was made last week and more details are available on the ARUA website. ARUA has indicated it will provide limited travel support to successful African presenters.

According to ARUA Secretary General Professor Ernest Aryeetey, the theme of the two-day conference – “Africa and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Defining a role for research universities” – was chosen because it reflects the most critical challenges facing Africa in the near future.

‘The most disruptive development’

“It was further agreed that the fourth industrial revolution was going to be the most disruptive development, and for which the region was least prepared. African research universities owed it as a duty to their nations and to themselves to build the capacity of the men and women who would prepare the region for the expected transformation through research and training.

“Academic disciplines will have to be overhauled and redesigned in many instances. Research in new areas will have to be undertaken as soon as possible,” Aryeetey told University World News.

The conference, to be held from 18-19 November, is expected to attract up to 250 participants from all over the world, but with approximately half from ARUA member universities. It will be followed by one-day workshops driven by ARUA Centres of Excellence.

This is the second ARUA international conference since the establishment of the alliance in 2015, the first being held in April 2017 at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Aryeetey said the conference is targeting academics and university leaders from all corners of the world, especially Africa.

“It is also looking at policy makers responsible for higher education and national development. The organisers expect some civil society participation in order to inform debates that take place in the region.”

He said ARUA expects the conference to show the relevance of its cause to African governments.

The future depends on good research

The conference should help encourage African governments to believe that a successful future cannot be without good research universities. This should be the most significant outcome for ARUA. Additionally, the conference should help to draw attention to the significant changes taking place in African higher education and encourage more effective collaboration between ARUA universities and other universities, both in Africa and elsewhere.

The conference is expected to produce at least two edited volumes, one for the natural and physical sciences and another for the social sciences and humanities, as well as a thought piece to be shared with African university vice-chancellors and governments on “preparing for the fourth industrial revolution”.

The conference format will consist of two plenary and 10 parallel sessions each day, covering specific relevant thematic areas of interest to ARUA. These include: climate change, food security, water conservation, renewable energy, materials development and nanotechnology, non-communicable diseases, migration and mobility, poverty and inequality, unemployment and skills development, good governance, post-conflict societies, urbanisation and habitable cities, and notions of identity.

Thematic areas

The ARUA thematic areas will have slots at the parallel sessions, with a view to mapping out expectations of how the fourth industrial revolution will play out in the particular thematic area, and how African universities could prepare for that. Other thematic areas to be discussed will include: education, health care, agriculture, the built environment and transportation, communication and society, security and defence block chain, production, regulation, and international diplomacy.

Since its inauguration in 2015, ARUA has established 13 functioning Centres of Excellence in nine universities and held its first international conference and a further eight workshops in line with its priority thematic areas. It has also developed a collaborative PhD programme in migration, and is currently organising an inventory of research management practices and developing indicators for performance measurement.

Interested persons are invited to submit a one-page abstract of the papers they would like to present at the conference as a PDF attachment to before 31 March 2019. Successful applicants will be informed about the decision on their abstracts and the method for submission of full papers within 14 days. Full papers should be submitted by 30 September 2019.