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Why universities need collaboration as roadmap for research

Educationists have called on African universities to collaborate within national and regional research networks to develop new ideas, innovative solutions and build local capacity to deal with the ongoing challenges and consequences of COVID-19 noting that in the long run, they need more government support and funding for research.

They noted that such collaboration platforms which have more muscle to lobby for research investment than individual higher education institutions.

Barnabas Nawangwe, the vice-chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda, said there was a need for African universities to collaborate more through the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)

“With the primary functions of research, teaching and learning, universities are expected to find solutions to current everyday realities and, during a pandemic, must continue to be seen as custodians of trusted science-based information,”

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Adipala Ekwamu, the executive secretary, RUFORUM said universities had to help societies to reimagine the future by working to “develop new ideas, promote innovations and creativity, and provide alternative scenarios for policy consideration”.

He said it was important that African universities help to build local capacity to respond rather than “waiting for masks from China”. Moreover, universities should work with governments to create “strong centres for foresight studies and data science”. This will guide policy interventions and preparedness. He also emphasised investment in research and innovation.

“Besides strengthening their interaction in terms of research and development (R&D) activities with communities and other actors to address the bottlenecks, including production-market linkages, as well as enhancing skills development for employability and entrepreneurship, not only for students but for rural communities, especially for rural women and youth, African universities need to innovate and strengthen the use of digital technology in agriculture such as for advisory services and market support,” Ekwamu said.

He added that universities further need to strengthen their R&D capacity, for example, in green economy and production, along with developing inclusive programmes for food security and nutrition and improved future resilience. African universities also need to be part of policy frameworks and dialogue.

According to Ekwamu, African universities need to work with the private sector to promote the use of digital technology, not only in agriculture and health services, but also in industry.

“Importantly, African universities must intensify advocacy with governments, multinationals and regional and international agencies for massive investments in connectivity,” he said.

To do this, they must reform to operate in a different mode that prepares for different market segments and eventualities. They should also collaborate to harness capacities in different universities and provide mutual support, Ekwamu suggested.

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