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When Mozambique became independent from Portugal in June 1975 after more than a decade of anticolonial warfare, its education sector was in tatters. With illiteracy at 93 per cent and only one university in the entire country, the route to achieving a robust school and university system looked set to be long and arduous — a situation made worse with the outbreak, in 1977, of 15 years of civil war. 
Dealing with the legacy of colonial rule and war has inevitably been tough, demanding heavy investment and extensive rebuilding programmes against an often volatile political backdrop.
But significant progress has been made: by 2013, according to Mozambique government statistics, illiteracy had fallen to 43 per cent and 93 per cent of primary-age children were enrolled in school, and today the country has 46 higher education institutions.
A cornerstone of the country’s current education policy is to develop a robust higher education sector to equip Mozambican researchers and lecturers with master’s and PhD qualifications of relevance to the country’s development plans.
On 15 May the country’s education minister, Augusto Jone Luís, and a delegation of Mozambican academics travelled to the United Kingdom to sign a partnership with the University of Glasgow focused on boosting the number of postgraduates in Mozambique.
The universities have agreed to develop the African Research Centre in Health and Environmental Sciences, based at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, with support from the Planet Earth Institute — an international charity that will support the partnership’s focus on “frontier research”, as its chairman, Álvaro Sobrinho, puts it.
The centre will cover public health priorities and environmental science in Mozambique, with a focus on what Carlos dos Santos, the Mozambican high commissioner in the United Kingdom, describes as “locally defined” research. In its first ten years, it aims to sponsor 100 PhD students, half from Mozambique and half from its neighbours.
At the project’s London launch event, SciDev.Net spoke to the education minister about his government’s vision for the partnership and for higher education in Mozambique.
How important are PhDs and doctoral research to driving development in Mozambique?
Mozambique’s first major concern is to ensure that more university lecturers have master’s and PhDs. We currently have a limited number of lecturers and professors at master’s and PhD level in higher education, and postgraduate programmes will therefore aim to increase graduation levels in Mozambique.
The discovery of mineral resources such as hydrocarbons and heavy sands in Mozambique will demand cutting-edge research activities. And this needs to be carried out by Mozambicans. There is a major focus in Mozambique nowadays to try to understand how Mozambicans can be at the forefront of research in gas, oil and related resources.
To respond to this, Eduardo Mondlane University has started degree courses in petroleum and gas. Ultimately, we need to understand how higher education institutions — both public and private — can take part in the development of Mozambique in these fields, and ensure that this happens. We will still concentrate on traditional research areas, but will also need to move towards new areas of research that, as yet, Mozambique has not been equipped to do.
Thus we need to train people at postgraduate level to help increase Mozambique’s development. That is why we have forged the partnership launched today: it is a living testimony that it is only with cutting-edge technology that we can develop Mozambique.
What are the new areas of research the country is focusing on?
The new research areas are hydrocarbons, mining, heavy sands, biomedical sciences and natural sciences, alongside traditional areas such as agriculture, fisheries and engineering, with a particular emphasis on civil works and construction. Given the constant development taking place in Mozambique, there is high demand for infrastructure such as roads, bridges and dams.
Social sciences will also play an important role. The natural and physical sciences must be considered alongside sociology, anthropology, philosophy and other related fields. We need a holistic approach. Recent debates on education in Mozambique have put a heavy emphasis on natural and physical sciences, but we should not forget that science cannot advance without considering the different demands of society. It is therefore important to have an equilibrium and balance between the two sides.
What programmes are in place to boost PhD numbers and quality in Mozambique?
Mozambique has approved a strategic plan for higher education, 2012-2016. This plan involves more than 600 lecturers and professors gaining master’s and PhDs, and more than 2,000 students obtaining master’s, before 2015.
We have a postgraduate training programme in Mozambique that has been approved, and, annually, the government provides grants and scholarships to train lecturers at master’s and PhD level.
We believe we are taking an important step. I do not know of any university in the world that started with all lecturers or professors holding PhDs. So what is important for me is the need to have a training programme within those institutions to boost the numbers of master’s and PhD level lecturers.
In 1975, Mozambique started with one public university, which had foreign lecturers. To date, Mozambique has 46 higher education institutions and most of the lecturers are of Mozambican nationality. We are moving towards a better future.
What forums are there for contact between scientists and researchers on the one hand, and government and development bodies on the other?
Several forums exist for contact and opinion-sharing between these groups.
There are professional, civil and academic forums that are platforms for dialogue and negotiation. These include the establishment of different academies for the sciences and humanities, and engineering associations. There is also the women’s forum, dealing with women and development issues, which is important.
One important element is that Mozambique has a Higher Education National Council, which brings public and private higher education institutions together with civil society.
So these debates or dialogues could be between the institutions themselves, between researchers in different fields and between civil society, the government and higher education institutions. This is the contact model that exists between researchers, lecturers and government.
Could you tell us about Mozambique’s higher education collaborations with Brazil?
First and foremost, I should say that Brazil has been training Mozambicans ever since the 1980s. And, at that time, training was centred on the bachelor degree, master’s and PhD levels.
Back then, most Mozambicans trained at that level did so abroad, in Brazil and other places, because Mozambique did not have many universities.
We have many Mozambicans working as lecturers and professors who were trained in Brazil as a result of this cooperation. The level and status of the relationship between Mozambique and Brazil, and Africa in general, resulted in the setting up of a Portuguese-speaking university named Unilab, which is located in Brazil and receives many African students.
However, the training of Mozambicans is carried out not only in Brazil, but also in most countries of the world. So we have students in other parts of Africa, in South America, Europe and all over the world. The main objective is to have a diverse pool of trained and thinking individuals — not only from one school of thought but from several.
Q&As are edited for length and clarity.
This is part of the Africa’s PhD Renaissance series funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.