A staff exchange experience at Makerere University: recollection and reflection
By Professor Emmanuel Tanyi, Dean Faculty of Engineering and Technology, University of Buea, Cameroon
I recently participated in a Staff Exchange Programme at Makerere University from 20th to 27th April 2017. The short visit was memorable for its intensity of activities and exchanges with professionals from a wide range of backgrounds.
This story is my recollection of the highlights of the visit and my reflection on the need for continent-wide staff exchanges as a mechanism for solving the twin-problems of capacity building and shortage of expertise in critical areas of training in Africa.
The programme of my visit was established before I arrived at Makerere University. It was a three-point agenda which included making a presentation on renewable energy; participation in the two-day RUFORUM Mid-term Review Meeting, and writing several proposals for the Intra-Africa Mobility Grant.
Renewable Energy Presentation, 20 April 2017
The main activity of the day was a lecture entitled: “Renewable energy for rural electrification: case studies from Cameroon” which I presented at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Just before the lecture, I had a brief meeting with staff of the RUFORUM Secretariat at their offices. I was introduced to members of the team and I, in turn, introduced myself and my country, Cameroon. This familiarisation meeting took place in the “Situation Room” of RUFORUM. The situation room is reserved for meetings in RUFORUM, but I later discovered that it transforms into a bee-hive of activity during peak periods of grant proposal writing.
From the Situation Room, I was taken to the venue of the lecture where I presented nine case studies from my research work. These were:
- Development of a renewable energy map of Cameroon
- Design, configuration and installation of a domestic solar system
- Design, configuration and installation of a community solar system
- Village health center solar system
- Boarding school solar system
- Mini-hydro system for rural electrification
- Hybrid mini-hydro/solar system for village electrification
- Biomass electricity generation based on empty palm fruit bunches and residues
- Capacity building for renewable energy
The lecture generated interesting and wide ranging discussions.
The RUFORUM Mid-term Review Meeting, 21-22 April 2017
During the two-day meeting, I made a presentation entitled: “The RUFORUM review in the context of the African Union’s Agenda 2063”
The salient points of the presentation were:
- The Africa of today is characterized by low agricultural productivity, shortage of skills for transformation of the abundant natural resources into value-added products, poverty, and high youth unemployment. The Africa of Agenda 2063 is, however, characterized by modernized agriculture, skilled citizens, a knowledge society, sustainable development, attainment of millennium development goals, and an ICT revolution
- A huge gap exists between the Africa of today and the Africa of Agenda 2063
- Some of the pillars needed to construct the bridge that will link the Africa of today to the Africa of Agenda 2063 require innovations in agricultural productivity and transformation
- A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of current agricultural training programmes in many African Universities points the way to many of the reforms which RUFORUM needs to undertake
- Suggestions on how the RUFORUM review can rise to the challenges of Agenda 2063
The review was characterized by passionate discussions by experts from a wide range of backgrounds: academics, industrialists, farmers, financial technocrats and managers. All of them were deeply passionate about RUFORUM and committed to it. They all shared ideas to help RUFORUM increase its output and relevance.
Intra-Africa Mobility Grant applications
This was already work-in-progress. Before my arrival, I had mobilized a team of experts from the University of Buea to work on four grant applications in collaboration with Makerere University and several other African universities. The projects were in: transformation engineering, ICT, agriculture, and education
I was initially scheduled to return to Cameroon on 23rd April, a day after the RUFORUM Review Meeting. However, we had not completed work on the applications and the deadline for submission was fast approaching. At the request of the Executive Secretary of RUFORUM, I extended my stay to 27th April to attend to this unfinished business. This facilitated further interaction with the team members of the various projects and we beat the deadline!
While the work on the mobility projects was going on, it occurred to me that we could have a post-review meeting for me to give my impressions of the review and discuss the issue of extending RUFORUM to the Central African Region. I suggested this to the RUFORUM Executive Secretary who graciously accepted and scheduled a meeting with staff.
Post-Review Meeting, 25 April 2017
Back in the Situation Room, I made a presentation to RUFORUM staff entitled: “Notes from my RUFORUM Review Diary: taking RUFORUM to Central Africa and making a contribution to the post-review agenda”.
This meeting was a direct result of the law of unforeseen consequence. It was not part of the initial script but rather resulted from the extension of my stay for completion of the work on mobility grants.
As the title indicates, the presentation addressed two main issues:
- Fast tracking the extension of RUFORUM to the Central African Region through advocacy which will begin at the University of Buea, in Cameroon, and spread to other countries in the region
- Highlighting the post-reform activities where I can make a personal contribution
The potential post-reform activities where I could make a contribution were:
- Implementation of the review recommendation to show how RUFORUM contributes to the attainment of the African Union’s Agenda 2063
- IT reforms, which were a recurrent theme of the review. Specifically: setting up a best practice webpage; simulation of agricultural processes; reviewing database management systems and reporting systems; and establishing a Wide Area Network for RUFORUM universities
- Developing the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme component of RUFORUM
- Developing a “Flow down” model of outreach to communities to address the criticism that most RUFORUM actions mainly benefit universities and only “trickle down” to the communities
- Advocacy for RUFORUM in the Central African Region
This visit nourished my reflection on five key issues:
- The importance of staff exchanges in Africa
- Challenges associated with staff exchanges
- Ways in which RUFORUM can be strengthened by broader STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) contributions
- Extension of RUFORUM to Central Africa
- Recommendations for future staff exchanges
Importance of staff exchanges in Africa
Many African Universities are facing acute shortages of expertise in critical domains, especially in STEM Education. Staff exchanges are a practical mechanism for leveraging available expertise over several universities, countries and regions of Africa. For example, during my lecture on renewable energy, I realized that many researchers in Makerere University were grappling with the problem of design and deployment of renewable energy systems for rural electrification. I hope that my lecture gave them an opportunity to leverage my experience and expertise in this domain in their current research activities.
Staff exchange Challenges
The challenges are three-fold:
- Inadequate funding
- Sourcing for the right experts
- Excessively heavy workloads of the few available experts
Strengthening RUFORUM through the contributions of STEM Experts
RUFORUM strives to contribute to the development and enhancement of a very long value chain, but some of the links in that chain require expertise outside the agriculture domain. Links such as food processing, food preservation, modelling of ecosystems, modelling and simulation of agricultural processes, and use of ICTs for enhancement of managerial efficiency require inputs from a wide range of STEM experts – engineers, technicians, biologists, chemists, soil scientists and mathematicians. The challenge is to source for the right experts for the various objectives to be attained.
Extension of RUFORUM to the Central African Region
RUFORUM has expanded from a regional initiative to a continental network involving 66 universities in 26 African countries. However, by accident rather than design, this continental expansion is lopsided and completely excludes Central Africa. There are those who think that even the present level of expansion is “bad family planning” in view of the formidable challenges it poses, but the other side of the coin is to consider the benefits of leveraging RUFORUM successes across the whole of Africa.
The continental expansion of RUFORUM is not balanced without Central Africa.
Recommendations for future staff exchanges
In defining staff exchange priorities in the short to medium-term, RUFORUM needs to consider the following needs and constraints:
- Sustaining and reinforcing what RUFORUM already excels at
- Addressing the weaknesses highlighted by the mid-term review
- Developing and reinforcing the ICT component in the RUFORUM value chain
- Extending RUFORUM to the Central African Region