Are universities and networks good bedfellows?

Networks like RISE don’t always slot effortlessly in with the administrative structures of the institutions that participate in them. The graveyard shift before lunch today focused on the relationship between networks and universities. A large variety of African universities were represented, and all agreed that they valued and welcomed network opportunities like RISE.

That is not to say that the creation of networks is problem-free. For example, university rules that dictate who can and cannot supervise a PhD student can get in the way of initiatives where students receive supervision from many different directions.

If institutions have to approve revised, matching curricula, that can take years. As I write this, three universities – one in Kenya, one in Tanzania and one in Uganda – are harmonising their degrees so that students can transfer credits between them as part of the AFFNET natural products network. Different fee structures offer up another potential quagmire for implementing networks.

Such administrative headaches do thwart effective network-building. But the painful process of clearing these road blocks have unforseen positive consequences for universities. More than once during this conference I’ve heard participants say that networking does not only bring you into closer contact with the partners in the network, but also improves internal networking and networking with other institutions in their country.

In other words, the benefits of inter-institutional networks seem are infectious and can spread much further than the original members. Perhaps a silver lining to consider when the gods of networking seem particularly inclement?

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

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