University continues to strengthen ties with Africa

The University of Western Ontario continues to forge ties to higher education in Africa, partnering with two universities to assist in strengthening their strategic plans to better deal with external stakeholders, such as government bodies.

Professors Herman Musahara, vice-rector academic at the National University of Rwanda, and Suleman Okech, academic registrar with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology, spent the last two weeks at Western meeting with a variety of individuals from Research Western and WORLDiscoveries to external partners such as Trojan Technologies and Trudell Medical.

The partnership was forged through the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Association of African Universities, through a $2 million agreement with the Canadian International Development Agency. In total, 15 partnerships were created across Canadian and African post secondary institutions.

In the areas of teaching and research, Okech hopes to improve his university’s ability to recognize the needs of society and the development of his nation. The idea of creating combined degrees at his university is something Western can assist him with.

“We have to put up structures, as a university, that can integrate and interface teaching, research and outreach programs to create the technology transfer aspect,” he says. “It’s going to help us identify and learn from The University of Western Ontario how they have done it – as well as identify some strengths and some weaknesses they could have had along the way – and relate them to our situation and see how we can, or need, to modify it for our situation. There’s always room for improvement.”

Along with improving relationships with governments, the need to strengthen partnerships with industry, commerce and individual citizens and groups is also on the agenda.

“What you do here in Canada is affecting us, and what we do in Africa is doing is affecting you,” Okech says. “Climate change, for example. For us to collaborate with Canada on this and do an effective job, we have to be at the same level. That is what we are aiming at for the long term.”

The Richard Ivey School of Business, in particular professor Oana Branzei, have also contributed case studies to assist the African institutions.

“We are talking about how to reach our lecturers and our students,” Musahara adds. “This part of the world you have the challenge of making the university move away from the ivory tower. We are getting to learn from tested methods.

“The problems are similar back home.”

Psychology professor and former provost and vice-president (academic) Greg Moran says this recent visit was more a partnership than a teacher/student relationship.

“It’s a collaboration, with so many of us coming together and sharing our different experiences and backgrounds,” Moran says. “It’s amazing how the themes are the same for our universities, even though the context and details of our universities are different. We share common problems, common themes and of course common objectives.”

Moran adds the two African universities have accomplished amazing things with a resource situation entirely different than our own, along with much, much more challenging circumstances and expectations of their local communities. For example, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology has grown from 3,000 students a decade ago to 22,000 today.

“I can’t even imagine that. We think we’ve have pheniminal growth here, but it doesn’t compare,” Moran says. “We have a lot to learn from simply understanding more about how they have managed to do that.”

Moran, Branzie and Paul Paolatto, WORLDiscoveries executive director, plan a trip to Africa in November to continue the partnership.