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University of Glasgow and ARUA hold first Virtual Symposium

University of Glasgow and the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) have held a one-day virtual event on the theme, “Enhancing Knowledge Transfer and Exchange in African Higher Education and Research”. This took place on 25th February 2021. The Symposium attracted 70 participants from University of Glasgow, ARUA, the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities and various partners from across Scotland, the UK, Africa and other regions. The event was a buildup on a similar event held in February 2020 on, “Capacity Strengthening in Africa” during which ARUA and University of Glasgow signed an MoU.

The Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of Glasgow, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, in his opening remarks, stated that the event aimed at building on the conversation held in 2020 and to strengthen the relationship between Scottish and European Universities and African Universities around knowledge transfer and exchange. Underscoring the need for collaboration, he stressed that, for both Africa and Europe, meeting the technological and societal challenges of the century would be easier if higher education institutions worked together in partnership than as separate entities.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of Glasgow, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli
Principal and Vice-Chancellor of University of Glasgow, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli

He said the successes achieved following collaborations witnessed between industry, higher education and the public sector, in responding to the pandemic, demonstrate clearly what can be accomplished when all parties pull in the same direction with speed and at scale. The same knowledge transfer and exchange must inspire efforts aimed at driving post-pandemic recovery, as well as addressing the broader challenges of the 2020s. He pledged University of Glasgow’s commitment to deepening research collaboration, sharing best practices, collaboratively exploring funding opportunities, as well as fostering various partnerships that address the common challenges of the time.

In a keynote address, the Secretary General of ARUA Professor Ernest Aryeetey, introduced various obstacles to research innovation in Africa and suggested that these could be overcome through collaboration. Highlighting the merits of collaboration, he noted that it remained key to sustainable development, as well as substantially increasing Africa’s contribution to knowledge generation around the world.

Secretary General of ARUA Professor Ernest Aryeetey
Secretary General of ARUA Professor Ernest Aryeetey

Touching on the principles around which ARUA was built, he explained that no single African university would be capable of addressing the myriad complex social, economic and development challenges of the region on its own. Thus, by boosting internal research capacity through collaboration, institutions could address transnational public policy issues including those related to the SDGs. He stressed that through collaboration, ARUA was seeking to ensure that African universities would evolve into first-rate post-graduate training institutions to provide the needed human capacity for research.

Professor Aryeetey also mentioned that ARUA was involved in two kinds of engagements that could provide models for collaboration between university networks. The first was the Alliance’s collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). UKRI supports the 13 Centres of Excellence with a GCRF facility that provides grants for capacity-building. It also provides support to four of the Centres in pursuit of research excellence. The UKRI-GCRF support is designed to promote research equity as it allows the African researchers to provide leadership in the projects undertaken with UK universities. Research equity is considered essential for effective collaboration. The second model is being developed with the Guild of Research-Intensive Universities in Europe. It is also aimed at developing a more equal partnership that supports the broader partnership between the European Union and the African Union. The collaboration is intended to yield resources to help build the infrastructure of African Universities to conduct the kind of research that brings about transformation in the region.

Professor Aryeetey indicated that all of ARUA’s engagements with partners built on the principles of research equity and equity in collaboration based on a shared vision, goals and values. In concluding, he emphasized the need for a transnational agenda that makes inclusive partnerships the ideal for collaborations in higher education and research.

Changing research in the higher education landscape in Africa: Key trends and challenges
Changing research in the higher education landscape in Africa: Key trends and challenges

Prof Peter Maassen of the University of Oslo led a presentation based on work he had recently undertaken with two other colleagues on the topic, “Changing research in the higher education landscape in Africa: Key trends and challenges”. Reflecting on Africa’s contribution to scientific knowledge, they showed, based on unique data from Stellenbosch University, that scientific output from universities in Africa was increasing – a trend indicative of the change taking place in higher education institutions in Africa. He noted that challenges, however, remained including low R&D funding and the fact that most universities in Africa remain teaching-dominated and decoupled from innovation investments. 

Prof Peter Maassen of the University of Oslo
Prof Peter Maassen of the University of Oslo
Prof Nico Cloete of Stellenbosch University
Prof Nico Cloete of Stellenbosch University

Prof Nico Cloete of Stellenbosch University echoed the changes in the data on Africa’s performance which showed that Africa’s contribution to global scientific knowledge over time had increased from 1 percent to 3.5 percent in the last five years. The increase, he maintained, was quite a significant achievement in the context that over the same period, the contribution of China and other countries in the East to global knowledge production had increased substantially. There was also a steady increase in the number of citations for African research. He added that while the data also points to strong research collaborations between Africa and Europe, and also between Africa and the UK, there was no evidence of increasing intra-African research collaboration. He attributed the trend to the apparent preference among academics to work alone or collaborate outside the continent. There are no funds to support intra-African collaboration and this could be linked to the lack of a Research Council which would fund collaborative research on the continent. This was necessary beyond the national science councils which provided limited resources for local research.

Elaborating on the relationship between ARUA and the Guild, Prof Maassen stated that the two university networks had agreed on the need for new ideas and approaches to boosting research innovation performance in African universities. This would be in addition to promoting equal African-European university partnerships based on lessons learnt from various university partnerships in Europe and arrangements between European and African universities. He said that the two agendas developed by the Guild and ARUA have, in the short-term, focused on influencing the EU-AU negotiations which are centred around the AU’s Agenda 2063. In the long term, they aimed at stimulating coordination and collaboration between countries in Europe when it comes to their programmes for supporting universities in Africa. The ARUA-Guild initiative focuses on centres/clusters of research excellence in the five priority areas shared by the EU and AU – public health, the green deal, digital transformations, good governance and migration. He stressed that where capacity building was most needed included the area of joint research projects, intra-Africa and Africa-Europe research masters, joint doctoral schools, post-doctoral fellowships, administrative systems, research infrastructure and the links to industry and social-society. The effort will require 100 million Euros of new investment funding per year over ten years (2021-2030) if Agenda 2063 is to be realized, which includes developing 200 research-intensive universities in Africa.

In concluding, Prof Maasen mentioned that the next steps in the collaboration between ARUA and the Guild will include trying to have an input into the AU-EU negotiations due to be signed in 2021, provide input into the EU’s development of new research and innovation programs focused on university capacity building in Africa, as well as promote the coordination of national strategies and programs aimed at developing an intergovernmental European Strategy for enhancing research capacity at African universities and research collaboration between African and Europe. He pointed out that the African Research Initiative for Scientific Excellence (ARISE) programme was one of the first fruits of the continuing engagement. It was a pilot programme launched by the European Commission and the African Union aimed at supporting research excellence and frontier research. The initiative will fund 40 young African researchers who are expected to develop a team of researchers in Africa in their areas of expertise linked to a university with a total budget of 25 million Euros.

Prof Ama de Graft-Aikins, a British Academy Global Professor at University College London and also University of Ghana
Prof Ama de Graft-Aikins, a British Academy Global Professor at University College London and also University of Ghana

Reflecting on what could be done in developing research partnerships beyond the usual models, Prof Ama de Graft-Aikins, a British Academy Global Professor at University College London and also University of Ghana, emphasized the need for a collaborative continuum that makes it possible to build partnerships incrementally and equitably. She maintained that the building blocks to this involve following equitable principles including transparency, shared responsibilities and profits, an understanding of global politics related to funding, publishing and career development, as well as building local research capacity as an integral part of partnerships. She also underscored how funding and an enabling local environment were key to efforts aimed at transforming successful research projects into a new identity or institution.

Dr Carol Clugson, Chief Operating Officer for the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow and the Director of the Living Laboratory for Precision Medicine in Glasgow
Dr Carol Clugson, Chief Operating Officer for the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow and the Director of the Living Laboratory for Precision Medicine in Glasgow

Dr Carol Clugson, Chief Operating Officer for the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow and the Director of the Living Laboratory for Precision Medicine in Glasgow shared institutional experiences on the role of universities in driving local economic growth through collaborations with industry. She highlighted some of the successes achieved through the adoption of a “triple-helix” approach – a real partnership between the University, the National Health Service and industry which is based on a joint recognition of synergies arising from working together.  She noted the approach, which was adopted in building a new University Hospital Campus, made it possible to achieve more collectively than any single organization could have done working alone. It had also spawned several expressions of interest for collaboration from various organizations not just from within Scotland, but also from the US and Singapore. In concluding, she challenged universities not to forget their obligation to the communities they serve in helping them to see the benefits of the world-changing work being undertaken.

Other speakers at the event shared their experiences on collaborations from the point of view of industry.  Robert Hanna, director of African Sun Energy in Botswana, who was speaking on behalf of Eunice Ntobedzi of Empowered Fintech and an alumnus of the University of Glasgow, reflected on the various lessons from engagements with universities and industry leading to the commercialization of academic research for the benefit of persons living in Africa in addressing the SDGs. 

Robert Hanna, director of African Sun Energy in Botswana
Robert Hanna, director of African Sun Energy in Botswana
Bacy Ngatia from Aga Khan University
Bacy Ngatia from Aga Khan University
John Patterson, chairman of the Scottish Business Association
John Patterson, chairman of the Scottish Business Association

John Patterson, chairman of the Scottish Business Association and Bacy Ngatia from Aga Khan University in their joint presentation spoke on the relevance of higher education and academia linkages to industry and the local economy. Their presentation provided some perspectives from various partnerships and collaborations between Scotland and Kenya in industry and higher education.

Prof Jan Palmwoski
Prof Jan Palmwoski

At the end of the breakout session, Prof Jan Palmwoski provided a summary, noting that several values stood out as key in collaboration and knowledge transfer. The first was that collaboration with industry was really about the society at large – the social value – and not just the economic value of those collaborations. Second, it was important for academia and researchers to find better and more sophisticated ways of telling their story about the importance of what they do for society in pushing forward its transformation. Third, it was important for all sides in collaborative efforts to listen to each other and understand one another’s peculiarities.

Assistant Vice-Principal of University of Glasgow, Professor William Cushley
Assistant Vice-Principal of University of Glasgow, Professor William Cushley

The Assistant Vice-Principal of University of Glasgow, Professor William Cushley in his concluding remarks reemphasized the need for trust and research equity in collaborations and knowledge transfer in Africa and Europe. In his view, achieving these virtues would require some learning and unlearning for all parties and reciprocal equity must go beyond pecuniary considerations and be vested in people.

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The Secretary-General
African Research Universities Alliance
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Email: arua@ug.edu.gh