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French varsity’s quest to increase research capacity in Africa

by Ben Oduor

By Ben Oduor

Agenda 2063 of the African Union, a strategic framework adopted by the Union’s 54 member states in 2013, aspires that by the year 2063, Africa shall be a prosperous continent with the means and resources to drive its own development as well as have well educated and skilled citizens underpinned by science, technology and innovation.

The document further projects the continent to achieve a 100 per cent literacy rate by 2030, have universal access to quality healthcare services and an annual growth of not less than 7 per cent by the period under review.

While such aspirations seem achievable, experts have warned that implementing Agenda 2063 could be hindered by lack of human capacity.

They thus advise stakeholders to consider investing in capacity building by promoting education in science and technology. They also say stakeholders must adopt measures that enhance change in the mindset of people and build the capacity of Africa’s human resource through education, research and knowledge acquisition.

However, such targets can only be achieved through partnerships. It’s for this reason that Africa has for the past decades developed collaborative approaches with her international peers as a way of gaining a mix of experiences through internationalization of higher education.

According to James Otieno, the Executive Director of the African Network for Internationalization of Education (ANIE), internationalizing education strengthens knowledge generation and research capacities of African universities.

“African universities contribute only a paltry 1 per cent of global knowledge due to their weak research and knowledge-generation capabilities. One of the formidable responses to this has been through transnational partnerships focused on research. African institutions and governments need to foster partnerships for research,” Otieno notes in his commentary in Africa Policy Review.

“Africa’s internationalization policies and strategies should, therefore, emphasize these collaborations to improve the research agenda in local universities. Such institutional strengthening would create strong infrastructure to support and sustain knowledge production.”

Science PO in Africa

In a bid to strengthen collaboration with African universities, Science PO, a leading French research university that specialises in Social Sciences, launched its first African office in Nairobi mid February this year, being first French university to have an office in an English-speaking part of the continent.

A statement from the institution notes that the move was aimed at promoting the university’s teaching and research across Africa from its base in Nairobi.

“The office’s objectives will be to develop new university partnerships, to encourage student and faculty mobility in both directions and to strengthen local relations with young people- mainly high school and university students,” the statement read in part.

Sheila Chepkoech, regional manager at the Office of International Affairs for Science PO, says the institution’s activities in Africa have been recording significant improvements within its short stint in the region, increasing the population of African students enrolled by 59 per cent in the last five years.

She says the institution, which is poised to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2022, has rolled out a series of plans with its Nairobi office; including strengthening more university partnerships in Africa, recruiting more students to study at the France-based campuses and laying more emphasis on research as a tool for supporting Africa’s nascent economy.

Research as tool for spurring Africa’s economy

Science PO, she says, uses an extensive range of approaches to research, ‘from ethnography to econometric methods, with specific focus on social sciences on areas spanning public health, urban development, education, security, environment and democracy.

These are facilitated by the university’s ten research centres, which has over two hundred researchers who generate diverse approaches to law, economics, history, political science and sociology.

With 35 per cent of its budget allocated to research, the centres focus on the five main disciplines by identifying challenges facing society and fueling debate over how to arrive at their solution through concrete research approaches.

In economics, for instance, the institution focuses on issues such as international trade, monetary policies, labour markets and innovation. While in history, it focuses on political history and the study of conflicts, world history and the history of knowledge and cultures.

Political Science, on the other hand, emphasizes on areas such as international relations, compared political and cultural areas, political theory, administration, public policy and voter behavior; factors which have in the past contributed to political and economic instability in some parts of Africa.

In its efforts to promote research, the university has since produced 800 publications annually, graduated 400 PhD candidates and facilitated more than 200 skilled researchers of different disciplines.

“We do hope to contribute to the African industrial economy through collaborative research between Science PO and institutions of higher learning in the continent on various areas,” Sheila says of the university, which currently boasts of over 600 alumni in Africa whilst admitting about 200 annually through the Europe-Africa undergraduate programme.

Science PO Law School has, for instance, developed law clinics in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country whose economy has lost billions due to prolonged conflict.

The law clinics aims to influence public debate- in specific fields such as access to justice, corporate social responsibility and human rights- within and beyond academic cycles through publication of reports, academic scholarships as well as public events organized at the university, and

In a bid to fling open the gate of academic opportunities for Africa’s needy students, Science Po collaborated with Mastercard Foundation in a US$8.2 million program that will see the latter issue more than 100 scholarships to students within a period of six years.

Students pursuing Masters Degree programmes are to benefit from a variety of educational projects spanning study trips, field research and capstone projects, among others.

Through such partnerships, Sheila says, Science PO will be able to ‘reinforce its brand and inspire confidence in its programs across Africa’s Anglophone, Lusophone and Francophone countries.


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