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African-European university collaboration crucial for sustainable EU-AU partnership

25th February 2022

Just ahead of the EU-AU summit, The Guild and African Research Universities Alliance’s (ARUA) panel discussion, organised on 14 February 2022, provided a timely outlook on what is needed to further strengthen African universities and African-European university collaborations in the long-term.

Opening the panel discussion, organised as part of the Africa-Europe Science Collaboration and Innovation Platform’s (AERAP) side events to the EU-AU summit, ARUA’s Secretary-General Ernest Aryeetey emphasised the necessity of scientific collaboration between Africa and Europe: “The EU-AU partnership must address the needs of African and European researchers.”

Building on Aryeetey’s remarks, Hilde Bras, Aletta Jacobs Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Groningen, noted that collaborations with African universities lead to better contextualization, richer perspectives, and better implementation, adding that “it is important that more women are included in these research collaborations.”

Regarding the concern on brain drain, Barry Dwolatzky, Emeritus Professor in Electrical & Information Engineering and Director of Innovation Strategy at the University of the Witwatersrand, explained that the key to avoid it is to encourage brain circulation between Europe and Africa: “Forming strong research clusters between European and African universities can enable African researchers feel better connected. To enable the collaboration, long-term resources are needed to develop African research infrastructures.” Hugues Abriel, Vice-Rector for Research and Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Bern, articulated the need to rethink research partnerships, building for instance on guidelines such as the ’21 Principles, 11 Questions’ developed by the Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries (KFPE).

The speakers emphasised that agenda-setting for collaborations should be driven by African researchers and institutions, and that the research should support African needs articulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063. Increasing doctoral training positions and developing intra-African collaborations are important steps in enabling the cooperation to expand across continents. “It is important to encourage quality research in Africa which then can attract researchers and institutions on a global level for collaboration,” Nana Ama Browne Klutse, Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Ghana, explained.

Debating AU-EU science policy

On 16 February, rector of the University of Oslo and The Guild’s Vice Chair, Svein Stølen, joined a roundtable that zoomed in on the policy developments enabling AU-EU cooperation in science, organised as part of AERAP’s side events. Highlighting the key role African universities have had in developing local affordable solutions to tackle the pandemic, Stølen noted that African-European university collaboration should be central to the AU-EU strategic partnership.

Stølen also welcomed the recently announced AU-EU Innovation Agenda, that includes proposals for the creation of Clusters of Excellence: “We are extremely happy to note that the document acknowledges the importance of strengthening Africa’s science capacity. This is extremely important and timely.”

Watch below the recording of the ARUA – The Guild panel on 14 February