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New international partnership to support world-class research across Africa and beyond

27th September 2020

In a new partnership aimed at boosting research across Africa and beyond, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) have signed an agreement to support higher education and coordinate efforts to address the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Higher education plays a critical role in national development. Through research, universities play a unique role in producing new knowledge and innovation to address local, national and global challenges, and providing evidence for informed public policy. To continue to realise this potential, universities must build on the foundations of their existing research capacity and develop a new generation of academics.

While sub-Saharan African countries have greatly increased both the quantity and quality of their research output, the region still accounts for less than 1% of global research output – despite comprising 12.5% of the world’s population, with almost two-thirds under the age of 25.

International collaboration has a crucial role to play in securing the long-term vitality of universities. Recognising this, the ACU and ARUA have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) pledging to work together on a shared priority to enhance and support world-class research in Africa.

13 universities across the African continent are members of both the ACU and ARUA:

  • University of Ghana
  • University of Lagos, Nigeria
  • University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  • University of Nairobi, Kenya
  • University of Rwanda
  • Rhodes University, South Africa
  • University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa
  • University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Makerere University, Uganda

This agreement capitalises on the strong reputation of both the ACU and ARUA in research, early career researcher support, and teaching and learning enhancement. ARUA members have already been involved in a variety of ACU-led projects aimed at strengthening research and teaching, including CIRCLE (Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement), PEBL (Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning), and Blue Charter Fellowships, as well as DRUSSA (Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa) and STARS (Structured Training for African Researchers).

The two organisations plan to explore joint applications for project funding, bespoke training and mobility opportunities, and opportunities to provide members with platforms and networking through selected programmes and events. Potential areas of focus include equitable research partnerships, and ways to enhance PhD opportunities across the ARUA network through different modalities, including split-site degrees.

Through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), ARUA and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) signed an MoU in 2018 to build research capacity in Africa to address the SDGs. Through this partnership, grants have been made available at ARUA Centres of Excellence to maximise and accelerate the impact of relevant projects, in areas including climate change (University of Cape Town) and urbanisation and habitable cities (University of Lagos).

Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU, said ‘The ACU has a strong track record of supporting research and teaching on the African continent, most recently through the innovative CIRCLE and PEBL programmes. We are also committed to ensuring higher education plays a leading role in helping address the SDGs. We are delighted to have signed this MoU with ARUA, which will enable us to harness the strength of our network of over 500 universities across the Commonwealth – including more than 100 in Africa – to help deliver positive change across pressing issues and across borders’.

Professor Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary-General of ARUA, said ‘We face so many common challenges across the world as well as across our continent. Partnership is more critical than ever and ARUA is delighted to be working so closely with the ACU to ensure research-based evidence helps deliver solutions to the dynamic and complex issues we face’.