Project to focus on digitalisation of graduate research

Universities in Africa are still facing challenges in fully deploying digitalisation and the use of ICT in fulfilling their mandate, three years after they were involuntarily thrust into using the technology by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The universities are unable to fully deploy and take advantage of digitalisation and ICT to do teaching, research and even extension, mainly due to a lack of both the capacity and the skills they need to use the technologies effectively.

As a result, the institutions need all the support they can get from all partners and actors, both local and foreign, to help them leverage technology and catch up with the general trend of doing things remotely, said Kenya’s Moi University Vice-Chancellor Professor Isaac Kosgey.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had unprecedented effects on our African universities. In nearly all African countries, universities were closed for several months, thus presenting difficulties to the core responsibilities of universities in teaching, research and extension. An important turning point has been the emergence of digitalisation and the use of ICTs in supporting teaching, research and even extension,” he noted.

This called for different international initiatives that could help universities more in enhancing their use of digital skills in teaching and learning, and at a pace with the rest of the global academic, he told an event to launch the European Union-funded Internationalisation and Digitalisation of Graduate Training and Research for the Attainment of African Regional and Global Development Goals (DigiGrad) project, in Eldoret, Kenya, on 11 May.

Internationalisation and digitalisation

Besides the lack of capacity for digitalisation, universities were also not faring well in postgraduate training and research, the institutions remaining largely focused on undergraduate training.

This is despite increasing pressure on the institutions to become more responsive to emerging issues and problems faced by society at large.

“In recent years, and with the growing complexities of societal challenges and the need for interventions from universities, postgraduate training and research have, nevertheless, come to the centre stage,” he said in a speech at the event read by his deputy, Professor Kirimi Kiriamiti.

The DigiGrad project was, therefore, important, as it brought about internationalisation and digitalisation of postgraduate training which have become critical in our universities.

As with many universities in Africa, Moi University had benefited from internationalisation projects, including collaborations and partnerships through development of new infrastructure, human resource and research capacities, he further noted.

With its focus being harnessing the opportunities of internationalisation and digitalisation for enhanced quality of postgraduate training, DigiGrad was an initiative that sought to address some of the key challenges that our African universities face today, the vice-chancellor observed.

Funded under the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme to the tune of €625,000 (US$679,600) the initiative is a partnership between the Kenya-based African Network for the Internationalisation of Education (ANIE), and European higher education and research association Obreal Global.

Holistic approaches

It will support postgraduate training in eight African universities in Kenya, South Sudan, Burundi and Ghana. Also participating in the North-South project are four universities from the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Spain.

It will involve Ghana’s University of Cape Coast and Laweh Open University, Kenya’s Moi and Africa Nazarene universities, the University of Burundi and Burundi International University, and South Sudan’s University of Juba and Upper Nile University.

The European Institutions include the Netherlands’ Maastricht University; Italy’s Sapienza University; UC Leuven of Belgium and Spain’s Extremadura University.

The project was being carried out with the appreciation of the diverse backgrounds of all the universities taking part, said Dr Kefa Simwa, the executive director of ANIE. This meant acknowledging the diversity of needs of participants, their needs and contexts when designing approaches to various issues, he added.

The project was, therefore, setting realistic goals for partners in the interests of adopting a holistic approach to internationalisation. It was appreciated that some universities did not have as much as an international office, but still deserved to take part in collaborative cross-border projects.

According to Professor Goski Alabi, the chairperson of ANIE, the DigiGrad project also sought to enhance the relevance of training for graduate students and young researchers in Africa, especially for “attaining Africa’s regional and global development goals, by harnessing the opportunities provided by digitalisation and internationalisation”.

Established in 2008 as a pan-African network and think tank, ANIE remained “committed to advancing high-quality research, capacity building, information sharing and exchange, transnational networking and cooperation, and policy advocacy on the internationalisation of education,” she said.

It has, since then, undertaken several research initiatives, publications, policy dialogues, capacity-building workshops and annual conferences on the internationalisation of education in Africa, and will hold its 13th Annual Conference in Zanzibar from 4-6 October, she added.