The umbrella organization for managing research in the United Kingdom, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to support the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) in setting up the latter’s 13 Centres of Excellence. Following the signing of the MoU in September 2018, UKRI invited ARUA Vice Chancellors to meetings with UKRI Senior Management to discuss the scope of the partnership. The visit was also for the purpose of meeting with the Russell Group Vice Chancellors in London to discuss possible collaboration between the two networks. The visit took place on 24-25 October 2018.
The ARUA delegation, led by its Board Chair, Professor Idowu Olayinka, Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, included Professor Adam Habib (VC, University of the Witwatersrand), Professor Philip Cotton (VC, University of Rwanda), Professor Wim de Villiers (VC, Stellenbosch University), Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, (VC, University of Lagos) and Professor Ernest Aryeetey (Secretary-General). Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, (VC, University of Cape Town) joined the delegation for the meeting with the Russell Group Vice Chancellors on the second day. The UKRI team was led by Professor Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council of UKRI, supported by Professor Stuart Taberner, Director for International and Interdisciplinary Research and Dr Jacqui Williams who is the Lead on the Newton Fund.
The ARUA delegation met on the first day with selected members of the senior management of UKRI and received detailed briefings on the structure and functions of the organisation within the UK research systems. The ARUA Secretary-General also did a presentation on ARUA, showing the motivation for setting up the network, its structure and governance, as well as the priorities of the network. The delegation spent an hour with the Chief Executive of UKRI, Sir Mark Walport. The Chief Scientific Adviser to Her Majesty’s Government, Patrick Vallance, also met the ARUA team.
As part of the effort to introduce some ARUA initiatives to UK academics, the delegation met with the leadership of University College London (UCL) and the School of Oriental and African Studies of University of London (SOAS) to discuss possible areas for cooperation. At UCL, the President and Provost, Professor Sir Michael Arthur welcomed the delegation to his office, in the company of his senior management team. UCL has some of the most extensive research engagements with African universities. The Director of SOAS, Baroness Valerie Amos also met with the ARUA VCs at her office in the presence of a number of senior faculty members doing extensive research in Africa.
On the second day of the visit, the ARUA delegation had a working lunch with the Russell Group Vice Chancellors at the Royal Society buildings, as both sides discussed ways in which they could work together. The Chair of the Russell Group, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice Chancellor of University of Glasgow, welcomed the ARUA delegation and expressed the strong interest the Group has in working with ARUA. Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, explained the history and workings of the Group. The ARUA delegation also shared with the Russell Group the story behind the network and the renewed effort to rebuild higher education and research in Africa. A number of firm ideas to make collaboration meaningful were discussed, and these included an expanded use of split-site PhD programmes involving ARUA and Russell Group universities. Several Vice Chancellors shared their own experiences on academic mobility and their desire to work with ARUA under a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) framework.
The ARUA Vice Chancellors who undertook the trip were unanimous in the view that it had been a very worthy endeavour, preparing the ground for excellent and strong collaboration in the near future. This view was also shared by UKRI and Russell Group colleagues at the end of the visit. It is proposed that the parties to these discussions will meet again in Kigali, Rwanda in April 2019 to develop concrete plans for collaboration.