Universities’ alliance to strengthen R&D

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  • The 15 universities, based in eight African nations, hope to spur funding and R&D
  • They are seeking commitment from governments and others to help them succeed
  • But a higher education expert says it could harm non-members in getting funding

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[DAKAR] A group of 15 universities in Africa has launched the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) as part of a strategy to attract funding for scientific research on the continent.

The alliance, launched on 10 March at the 2015 African Higher Education Summit in Senegal, aims at using a Pan-African network as a platform to strengthen research and postgraduate training.

“The primary focus of ARUA is to build indigenous research excellence with the intention of asserting Africa as a powerful global force,” says ARUA co-initiator Adam Habib, the vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

“The primary focus of ARUA is to build indigenous research excellence with the intention of asserting Africa as a powerful global force.”

Adam Habib, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Max Price, a co-initiator and the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, adds: “The intention is to bring together our distinctive fields of expertise to achieve complementary and coordinated programmes of research and training, including addressing the key development priorities of the African continent.”

Fifteen universities — six from South Africa, namely University of the Witwatersrand, University of Stellenbosch, University of Pretoria, Rhodes University, the University of Cape Town and University of KwaZulu-Natal —  are represented in the alliance.

The rest are Nigeria-based  University of Lagos, University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University; University of Ghana; University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; University of Nairobi, Kenya;  National University of Rwanda;  Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal and Uganda’s Makerere University.

The initiators say ARUA would seek to address challenges confronting African universities, among them the complex economic, social and development problems that cannot be addressed by institutions working in isolation.

Habib says the alliance would also look into transnational public policy and developmental strategies and the need to compete in the global knowledge economy using innovation and technology to foster development, led by locally trained postgraduate students.

“The alliance can only be successful if we have the commitment and support from key stakeholders in government, the higher education sector, and local and global funding agencies,” adds Habib. “Africa’s time is now. This is an opportunity for Africans to thrive and to contribute towards finding the solutions to the complex problems facing the development of our continent today, and in the future.”

However, Christian Noumi, an African PhD candidate with a research focus on higher education, who is based at the University of Toronto, Canada, says the ARUA idea is elitist and has the potential of denying other universities outside the alliance access to critical funds for research.

“This alliance is not going to benefit students. It will end up creating two tiers within the universities system on the continent as one set will end up getting all the available funds to the disadvantage of the others,” Noumi argues, although he acknowledges that the coming together of the universities could help generate more knowledge.

Isaac Adewole, the vice-chancellor of University of Ibadan, says the alliance would ensure participating universities become centres of excellence, giving more postgraduate students the opportunity to undertake quality research.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.