Why academic mobility within Africa is vital

Friday July 19 2019



Maureen Agena

Maureen Agena  

By Maureen Agena

The African Union Agenda 2063 aspires for Africa to become a major knowledge and innovation force in the global economy. The Agenda’s action plan provides a more integrated and inclusive Africa that uses its natural resources, human capital and institutions to drive technological, social and business innovation for development. It proposes to leapfrog the conventional approaches in ways that ensure rapid, sustainable growth, reduce out-migration and improve quality of life.

Highly-skilled human resources are essential to develop and deploy new technologies to meet the Agenda’s goals and aspirations. This is also envisioned in the United Nations 2030 Agenda on sustainable development, notably Goal 4 on “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” and Goal 10 on “Reduce inequality within and among countries”.

Africa is lagging in high-level skills, technologies and innovations, and more needs to be done, in a different way, to ensure that its young population and institutions are empowered to develop new knowledge and innovations for societal and economic transformation. This is most important in agriculture and other primary sectors, which are providing food, employing larger proportion of the population.

Africa is confronted with a number of development challenges, but a critical gap is the limited human capital to respond to those challenges and to support the development agenda. As a continent, our future is dependent on our youth, the new generation of academic leaders and researchers, and we therefore need to develop a new generation of African scholars that are able to work across the continent.

As such, we must not only invest in science and institutional capacity, but also in building the human base. It is true that many universities in Africa have so long been seen as de-linked from communities and this has called for redirecting the way universities do their research to closely link with the communities. One of the best ways this was done was by harnessing the resident capacity that exist in universities to foster collaboration rather than competition, because no university world over, can have expertise in everything; there are areas where some universities are stronger and those where they are weak.

African governments can help provide a mechanism for African universities to support their human capital development through innovative academic mobility programmes, which are critical for generating new technologies and discoveries that transform delivery of services and improving livelihoods. They must also work towards removing the barriers such as high intra-Africa visa costs, which affect mobility, high costs of resident and work permits for initiatives which go a long way in helping
Africans achieve the Africa we want. Under the auspice of an initiative “Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA),” which in design is owned by 114 universities in 38 counties in Africa, but managed and coordinated by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), Graduate students and staff seeking to study PhD are trained. The arrangement involves a host University waivering tuition for a student, who in turn teaches while he/she studies.

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The waiver is a compensation for the student’s staff time. On the other hand, the sending university takes care of the student’s Stipend, research and travel costs. That way, universities collaborate to train students across the continent. In Uganda, universities such as Makerere, Ndejje, Gulu, Busitema, Uganda Christian University and Uganda Martyrs have embraced the initiative and have not only sent students, but are hosting students from across Africa under this arrangement.

In Uganda alone, RUFORUM has directly supported the training of 440 Masters and 70 PhD graduates, but so far trained nearly 3,000 African students in the continent, who have not only studied in their home countries but also within Africa. This has in-turn built a critical mass of graduates who not only understand their continent better, but who have chosen to stay and address the many challenges that the continent is confronted with amidst brain drain.

While it is good to see young Africans train beyond Africa, it is important to have scholars who have trained and know the continent. Africa must now determine that it is human capital development that will advance its economic strategy and Uganda is no exception.

Ms Agena is the corporate communications and advocacy officer, Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture. m.agena@ruforum.org.

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