Namibia science academy takes shape

November 9, 2010

Elmo Thomas, on the left.

Efforts to set up a Namibian academy of natural and social sciences started in earnest this year.

Elmo Thomas, deputy director in the Namibian ministry responsible for science and technology policy development, told me that a steering committee is busy working on the structure of the academy. The steering committee includes academics, higher education officials and other stakeholders.

“Obviously one of our first priorities is to promote networking, within Namibia and the world at large,” said Thomas.

He said the process to establish the academy will go through three phases: the first being the ground work, the second being the establishment of the academy and the third getting it working on projects. He hopes that the first phase will be completed early next year.

For him, the ASADI meeting is a learning experience. “At this meeting we have academies at various stages of development, academies that are two and those that are five years old – it is an opportunity to learn.”

Namibia’s academy may be some time to come – a similar initiative in Ethiopia launched in April this year took almost two years to get off the ground from concept to execution.

The Namibian project is being supported by the Germany Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Sciences of South Africa, the Namibian government and the Network of African Science Academies.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

Are universities and networks good bedfellows?

October 6, 2010

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

Who networks the networks?

October 5, 2010

Networks can be hard to visualise

As a journalist, I have a natural aversion to the abstract groupings that increasingly dominate international science. I cringe when I read about “virtual centres”. A centre has walls, to my mind.

I don’t struggle with networks so much. It makes sense that a network is simply people who talk to each other on a regular basis, and who collaborate in more or less formal ways. But this afternoon, things got more confusing.

Africa has networks coming out of its ears. They are managed by international donors (like RISE), continental organisation like the African Union, or some simply spring up naturally when scientists in a particular field want to work closely together.

Every now and then sponsors of the same type of network go ‘uh-oh’ and start to worry about doing the same thing. But this isn’t really a major issue, as long as there is some form of relationship between the networks. For example, one of the RISE networks has recruited students who received their previous training through another network.

There are other ways networks could collaborate. Travel is expensive in Africa, so networks could pool their resources for training in areas like proposal writing, intellectual property rights and research management. The other good thing about networks is that they are flexible, and can evolve to suit changing circumstances.

The resulting collaborations will be hard to visualise, however. A network of networks? You might need a maths degree…

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

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