Final day of Forum urges ‘creative wealth’ and e-learning strategies

April 3, 2012

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Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


African countries are being asked to use science, technology and innovation to create different, more inclusive forms of wealth that benefit entire societies and are more sustainable.

Under-development on the continent can be addressed by reduced reliance on inherited forms of wealth such as oil and minerals, and by shifting to “created” wealth through the application of science, technology and innovation, the Africa ST&I forum heard on its final day today.

“Science and innovation will create not only sustainable but equitable wealth for all in Africa,” said Donald Kaberuka, head of the African Development Bank (ADB) at the ministerial session of the forum.

“Created wealth has the potential to accelerate development and reduce inequality, as opposed to inherited wealth which fuels inequalities and at times sparks conflict in Africa,” he added.

Kaberuka said the bank has identified and is funding ST&I initiatives aimed at spurring economic development on the continent, alongside its investments in other sectors such as water, energy and infrastructure development.

He advised universities in Africa to place greater emphasis on e-learning education approaches, to help bridge the gaps resulting from a continent-wide shortage of qualified lecturers and the high number of university students.

“It would make a lot a sense to use e-learning in universities instead of having one lecturer teaching 1,000 students, resulting in poorly qualified graduates,” Kaberuka said.

By 2030, Africa stands to benefit from “demographic dividends”, as it is estimated a quarter of the world’s youth population will be Africans – but the opportunity to take advantage of this workforce will be lost if they don’t receive the education and skills training necessary to innovate and become entrepreneurs.

The ADB boss noted that some Asian counties have effectively utilised their large youth populations, with deliberate strategies to provide skills training and jobs, and said African countries need to perform the same task.

UNESCO director Irina Bokova told the meeting that UNESCO is helping African countries draft and reform their STI policies to align them with demands of current times, with a particular focus on grants and rewards for innovations for young scientists and women.


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


The RISE networks 101

October 5, 2010

Yesterday, the leaders of the RISE networks met here in Benoni to discuss their experiences and the challenges ahead. Today, the discussions continue. There’s a lot I want to write about here, not least the exciting research pursued by RISE students, but to set the scene, I think I first need to outline the current status of the networks.

RISE funds five networks—the African Materials Science and Engineering Network (AMSEN); the African Natural Products Network (RISE-AFNET); the Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products Network (SABINA); the Sub-Saharan Africa Water Resources Network (SSAWRN); and the Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative (WIO-RISE).

Each network involves universities in a number of African countries. All are multi-disciplinary in nature and try to involve not only academics, but civil society and industry to create a “new type of graduate” that can bring their findings to bear on local challenges.

The networks are approaching the end of their 2.5-year first phase, funded by US$800,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York with matching support (in terms of supervision, etc) from participating universities. Thus far, their main output is the soon-to graduate MSc and PhD students (each network sponsors between one and two dozen students). The materials science and engineering network has already lodged a provisional patent and had its first scientific article published in a US journal.

In other words, it’s still early days for the networks and this meeting discusses a work in progress.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


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