Africa-Europe Clusters of Research Excellence total 20

Three new Africa-Europe Clusters of Research Excellence (CoRE) were launched by the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (the Guild) on 25 September, bringing the total to 20.

This follows the launch of the first 17 clusters in June.

Each of the clusters connects several African and European universities multilaterally to collaborate on a thematic area of common interest, addressing major scientific challenges through interdisciplinary research and higher education that leverage the skills and excellence of the participating institutions.

The CoRE initiative has now grown to involve more than 250 researchers at 60 universities and research institutes or centres on the two continents.

AU-EU Innovation Agenda

In their statement this week, ARAU and the Guild said the new clusters are a “direct response to the formal launch of the joint Innovation Agenda of the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU), which acknowledged the importance of research and education – including in the social sciences and humanities – for achieving the EU’s Global Gateway strategy and the AU’s Agenda 2063”.

The AU and EU adopted the final version of their joint Innovation Agenda in July. It will “represent the mainstay of the cooperation on science, technology and innovation between Africa and Europe for the next decade”, the European Commission said in a statement at the time.

Global Gateway

The joint Innovation Agenda is supported by the EU’s Global Gateway, a strategy to strengthen health, education and research systems across the world. It commits EU institutions and member states to jointly mobilise up to €300 billion (US$318 billion) of investments between 2023 and 2027 for sustainable and high-quality projects.

The first of the Global Gateway initiatives to be put in motion was the €150 billion Africa-Europe Investment Package. This was announced in 2022 and is aimed at supporting Africa to achieve “a strong, inclusive, green and digital recovery and transformation”, focusing on sustainable investments in key areas, ranging from infrastructure and health to education and the environment.

“At this particular time, when European discourse about Africa is increasingly dominated again by migration and crisis, it is more critical than ever to show how Europeans and Africans can only progress by addressing our common challenges together, in real partnership,” Professor Jan Palmowski, the Guild lead on Africa-Europe CoRE (on research leave as secretary-general in 2023-2024), said in the statement this week.

The CoRE initiative is “founded on the ambition of creating equitable research partnerships, of pooling expertise between academics and institutions across two continents, and creating a research agenda that is societally-driven, not donor-led”, he told University World News.

The three new clusters “broaden tremendously the societal scope of our initiative, by concentrating on areas that are often less in the sights of funders supporting research in Africa, and yet each of them will make a critical and lasting contribution to global science, and strengthen academic collaboration within and between Europe and Africa”, he added.

New Clusters of Research Excellence

The new CoRE on ‘Creative Economies: Cultures, Innovation and Sustainability’ aims to support the development of more equitable, innovative and sustainable ‘creative economies’ – a notion that has been described as the ‘missing pillar’ of sustainable development, according to Palmowski.

‘Creative economies’ is a sector that has been recognised for its potential to contribute up to 10% of global GDP by 2030, ARUA and the Guild said in their statement.

Co-led by Professor Duro Oni of the University of Lagos in Nigeria, Professor Jen Snowball of Rhodes University in South Africa, and Professor Roberta Comunian and Dr Eka Ikpe of King’s College London in the UK, the cluster brings together cultural policy organisations and university researchers from across Africa and Europe.

According to Snowball, this cluster will examine the transformational potential of cultural and creative economies.

“We want to identify, empower and protect the value of creativity for inclusive and sustainable growth and development,” she told University World News.

The researchers will focus on three core themes: sustainable and inclusive business models and markets for the creative industries; technology and innovation as well as protection and development for cultural and creative producers; and development models looking at heritage, communities and socio-cultural value.

In the new ‘Engineering for the Future’ CoRE, researchers co-led by Professor Wynand Steyn of the University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa, and Professor Barbara Shollock of King’s College will establish an engineering teaching and research ecosystem to train future engineers how to play a key role in mitigating complex challenges, including climate change and food security.

With a clear focus on the AU’s Agenda 2063, this CoRE is deeply committed to collaboration with government and industry, ARUA and the Guild said in their statement.

In the new ‘Politics of Sustainable Development: Squaring the Circle of Science and Democracy’ CoRE, researchers from the social sciences and humanities, as well as the natural sciences and law, will collaborate to uncover the nature of politics around sustainable development, how it affects political discourse and decisions, and how these are contested.

This cluster seeks to provide “a completely new understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals, asking who gains and who loses”, Palmowski told University World News.

Researchers led by Dr Heide Hackmann of UP and Professor Dan Banik of the University of Oslo in Norway will also develop innovative PhD programmes, focusing on leadership for sustainable societal transformation.

New opportunity

Professor Ernest Aryeetey, secretary-general of ARUA, noted at the launch that “these three additional clusters are a good indication of the ambition of CoRE to present a more diversified portfolio of academic disciplines”.

He said: “They bring in more of the social sciences and humanities and provide an opportunity for greater interdisciplinarity in the work of our institutions. They reflect an essential departure from the status quo at many institutions and a readiness to be more creative and innovative. CoRE provides African and European universities a new opportunity to confront the challenges of our time differently and more purposefully.”

This news report was updated on 3 October.