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Africa set to benefit from international partnerships

There are some positive developments to share in response to Christopher Chetsanga's argument for supporting young African scientists, put forth in his opinion article entitled Young African scientists must be able to contribute to development. A recent collaboration between Canadian and African universities, for example, announced just weeks ago in Ghana, aims to directly address the need for education and knowledge infrastructure in Africa, which, as Chetsanga points out, is so crucial to the continent's future.

To mark African University Day on 11 November 2010, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and its African counterpart, the Association of African Universities (AAU), officially launched a partnership programme called "Strengthening Higher Education Stakeholder Relations in Africa". These organisations have come together to forge 27 new university–industry partnerships in Africa, which will see Canadian and African researchers integrate their knowledge and help advance local and regional industries.

I am especially enthusiastic about one of these partnerships, formed by the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) in Tarkwa, Ghana, and the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in Canada. As an integral part of the undergraduate engineering programme, students will be trained while working in the local oil and gas industry. UMaT is the only university in Ghana mandated to train engineers in this sector.

This initiative could not have come at a better time. Ghana is beginning to produce oil expected to generate revenues that, according to the International Monetary Fund, could contribute 4–6 per cent of the country's gross domestic product over the next five years.

I was pleased to find that the programme is well placed to have a cross-border effect. At the official launch of the partnership between the AUCC and the AAU, Elias Asiam, dean of international programs at UMaT, noted that the university is training not only Ghanaian engineers but also professionals from the mining ministries of Liberia and Nigeria, among other countries. International partnerships between universities could boost the influence of such institutions on the agendas of host countries and, in this case, their neighbours.

The project is directed by John Quaicoe, dean of engineering and applied science at MUN, and a Canadian of Ghanaian origin. A visit to Ghana three years ago sparked his interest in sharing knowledge and experience with UMaT.

From my perspective at the AUCC, Quaicoe is not the only member of the developing world diaspora who is working to improve conditions in his native country. A 2008 survey of our flagship University Partnership for Cooperation and Development (UPCD) programme revealed that nearly 20 per cent of the project directors were originally from developing countries.

Since its launch in 1994, with the aim to strengthen higher education institutions in the South, the UPCD programme has funded more than 154 projects in such disciplines as education, natural sciences and the humanities. We all stand to gain from the mobility of scientists — whether from South to North, or North to South.

There has been a push for universities in the developing world to become more involved in setting national priorities since more than 100 countries signed the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. It is time for universities, including scientists and researchers from all disciplines, to use sound research and innovative technologies as a positive influence on national agendas. And this is exactly what the AUCC and the AAU aim to accomplish with their new partnership in Africa.