SADC, university network to join forces to promote science

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) are set to deepen their collaboration to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, to support universities’ incubation hubs and mobilise donor funds to roll out programmes at institutions of higher learning in the region.

The AAP was founded by Michigan State University (MSU) in the United States in 2016 and is a consortium of MSU and 10 leading African universities.

In an interview with University World News, Professor Thomas D Jeitschko, the interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at MSU, said he was in South Africa and Botswana earlier in October for meetings on university collaborations and met with the leaders of countries that form part of the SADC.

He said engagements between the AAP and the SADC have recognised institutions of higher learning and research as strategic partners in their commitment towards the implementation of the SADC’s 10-year Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP 2020-2030).

The plan was approved by the 40th Ordinary SADC Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2020. It operationalises the SADC’s Vision 2050 which captures the region’s future aspirations.

RISDP 2020-30 has six priorities that include human capital development, industrial development and cross-cutting issues including gender, youth, environment and climate change.

Towards ‘impactful interventions’

Jeitschko said discussions are at an advanced stage to seek donor funding, through the facilitation of the SADC, to implement impactful interventions among member states in the higher education sector.

“The purpose of the AAP meeting with the SADC leadership was to build on current collaborations and deepen our collaboration into more programmatic areas. Going forward, AAP would like to work with the SADC to jointly mobilise resources for mutually agreed upon priorities,” he said.

“Some of the suggested areas for collaboration include strengthening capacities of institutions of higher learning to support the implementation of RISDP; strengthening youth empowerment and entrepreneurship development programmes such as university-based incubation hubs [and] human capital development.”

He said the promotion of STEM to focus on increasing the participation of women in these fields, as well as promoting digital literacy initiatives to prepare the region’s workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution were also priority areas.

Jeitschko said recent AAP collaborations with the SADC included policy dialogues on pro-employment policies held in Malawi in 2021, which was the first opportunity for collaboration between the two organisations.

He said that, at the time, delegates called for the strengthening of think tanks in the region to conduct research and generate knowledge on topics related to labour, employment and other similar issues.

The professor said that, following through on the outcomes of that dialogue, the AAP worked with the SADC secretariat to convene a meeting with think tanks in the region, which was held from 31 May to 2 June in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“Agreement was reached for the SADC secretariat to facilitate the establishment of a coordination mechanism for think tanks in the region. The AAP was identified and requested to lead in the convening of follow-up actions,” he said.

Building on existing partnerships

He also said AAP programmes have funded, supported or engaged with more than 350 researchers and staff from AAP member institutions and over 150 from non-member partners in AAP-related programmes.

The programmes have also led to more than 100 co-authored publications, at least 36 successful external funding proposals, capacity-strengthening at 56 institutions and targeted the professional development of 38 African women early-career researchers, among others.

Jeitschko said that, during his Africa tour, the AAP consortium met for its annual business and advisory board meetings on the Future Africa campus at the University of Pretoria (UP) on 9-10 October. UP is part of the AAP network.

The consortium’s new five-year draft strategic plan was unveiled during that time and awaits finalisation.

The AAP also hosted a public dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion at UP and a youth empowerment roundtable at the University of Botswana.

Jeitschko said that, over the past five years, the AAP has facilitated joint research by African and MSU researchers, and policy engagements at various pan-African organisations forums, including the African Green Revolution Forum, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity-Building in Agriculture, the African Capacity Building Foundation, and the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes, among others.

In the process, MSU and African expertise in research and teaching have been afforded an opportunity of engagement with their peers, with high-level government officials as well as with the donor community, he added.

“Some programmes, like the Partnerships for Innovative Research in Africa and African Futures Research Leadership Programme, are designed to support researchers and build collaborative partnerships, while others, like the Public Dialogue Series and Perspectives Occasional Paper Series amplify African voices and share AAP’s mission with a global audience,” added Jeitschko.

In a recent SADC statement, it said the interaction provided an opportunity for both parties, SADC and AAP, to reaffirm their commitment to signing a memorandum of understanding which will facilitate the implementation of agreed-upon priorities and initiatives.