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Joint African-European PhDs bring research rewards

Copyright: OER Africa

Speed read

  • A Ugandan and Swedish university share resources and work together to award PhDs

  • The long-term partnership has led to more than 500 joint peer-reviewed articles

  • It led to Ugandan health reforms and there is no evidence of ‘brain drain’

Offering PhD students from Africa dual qualifications with European universities increased their research output and improved administrative procedures at partnering universities, a study reveals.
The paper, published this month (3 February) in PLOS Medicine, analysed a long-running health research partnership between Uganda’s Makerere University and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. As part of the project, students could use both campuses and had to defend their theses in front of a joint examination committee before obtaining PhDs awarded by both institutions.
The project created lots of reciprocal learning opportunities and even brought health policy reforms in Uganda, says Stefan Peterson, a professor of global health at the Karolinska Institute and co-author of the study.
The study shows that publication rates rose among Ugandan researchers participating in the project, and that both institutions had improved their administration of research collaborations and funding procedures.
It also found zero ‘brain drain’ from the collaboration, with all Ugandan graduates so far remaining in their country, outside standard postdoctoral periods. This was achieved by ensuring that most teaching happens in Uganda, which preserves researchers’ local and family ties, the study says.
But scientists from the two institutions had initially struggled to build functioning research groups and write joint grant proposals due to the difference in access to technology and information, it found.
Nonetheless, says Paul Nampala, grants manager at African consortium the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture, such collaborations advance the partners’ understanding of the processes that facilitate research studies in their respective cultures, which improves future tie-ups.
He tells SciDev.Net that the study shows that joint degree programmes help develop the kind of human capital needed to drive development in Africa. “Beyond efforts to build and increase research capacity, partnerships between and among universities have the potential to develop innovations and solutions for solving challenges in society,” he says.
Over the past ten years, 44 PhD students have graduated through the partnership, and more than 500 joint peer-reviewed articles have been published, most with a Ugandan as a first author, the study says. The programme is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).
Makerere University is using its experience to help other Ugandan public universities —including the Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Gulu University and Busitema University — to increase their international cooperation, says Nelson Sewankambo, who heads Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences.
The Karolinska Institute drawn some lessons from the project on how it can get more out of international collaboration, and is starting joint degrees with the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, he says.
Link to the full article in PLOS Medicine


PLOS Medicine doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001784 (2015)

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