Meeting in Cape Town on 3-4 November, a summit of over 30 university leaders from across Africa and Europe reflected on how to develop new types of institutional partnerships that will build long-term research capacity in African universities. They agreed that this requires a long-term vision around commonly identified research challenges that are of shared urgency.
University leaders from both networks agreed that we needed to find new ways to collaborate to unlock human potential for the greater good. This needed to inform how we do research together, and how we ensure research questions are not dominated by the global north.
ARUA and The Guild universities also expressed a joint commitment that their practical collaboration must be underpinned by a vision that makes a difference to lives - through supporting and training future researchers, the expertise our graduates bring into their communities, and the economic and social impact of our cutting-edge collaborative research.
Discussions were framed by the draft AU-EU Innovation Agenda, as Vice-Chancellors, Rectors and their deputies agreed to work towards the creation of Clusters of Excellence, with an ambition to strengthen Africa’s research capacities based on the principle of equity. This would include the creation of joint doctoral schools, and developing new ideas on making a difference to society through research, teaching and public engagement. The meeting also agreed on the importance of developing a long-term vision for long-term world-class infrastructure investment; a key ambition of the AU-EU Innovation Agenda.
To put the joint vision for the Clusters of Excellence into practice, the summit agreed on the critical need that researchers from member universities would now be invited to identify together, across the two continents, key challenges of mutual interest within the broad framework for collaboration agreed at the meeting.
Within this context, the university leaders exchanged views with Maria Cristina Russo, Director for Global Approach and International Collaboration at the European Commission, on how universities need to be central to the implementation of the AU-EU Innovation Agenda. They emphasised that investing in the science capacity of Africa’s public universities would be key to achieving the African Union’s vision to become a knowledge society by 2063. The meeting welcomed the joint vision agreed by political leaders at the 2022 EU-AU summit, to ‘step up’ ‘scientific cooperation between researchers’ based on the AU-EU Innovation Agenda.
Noting that many of the solutions to our common global challenges would come from Africa, Vice-Chancellors and Presidents underlined an urgency in boosting Africa’s science capacity, urging policy-makers now to put in place means to enable universities and researchers to achieve this vision for the long term. In the words of Barnabas Nawangwe, Chair of ARUA: ‘We must do more!’.
Barnabas Nawangwe, Chair of ARUA, said: "Our joint meeting in Cape Town gave us an opportunity to reflect together on how we could develop mutually beneficial systems as we grow research and graduate training programmes. The need for African universities to undertake research that helps their countries to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals is worth noting. The AU-EU Innovation Agenda is aligned to that ideal. The Cape Town meeting helped us to agree on how to prioritise our joint activities as we move in this direction. We were able to verbalise our commitment to working together to tackle the most significant development challenges of our time."
Svein Stølen, Chair of The Guild, said: "After intense discussions in Cape Town, Vice-Chancellors and Rectors have agreed on a new approach towards the creation of Clusters of Excellence that will identify and address common societal challenges. We will now bring our researchers together to identify the scientific frontiers we must overcome, in our mutual interests. Our joint endeavour requires long-term commitment from our universities, and the passion and expertise of our researchers."
Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary-General of ARUA, commented: "ARUA universities are strongly committed to collaboration, first with one another and then with The Guild. This arrangement should lead to a departure from the ‘business-as-usual’ approach to university partnerships. Working together, it is intended to confront all the obstacles to enhanced research capacity and graduate training in Africa. This arrangement should help tackle the ‘brain drain’ in an innovative way with a much higher likelihood of success. The AU-EU Innovation Agenda provides a very useful framework for planning our engagements in a very structured manner. The operationalisation of the programme is being pursued in a very equitable manner, emphasising mutual respect."
Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General of The Guild, commented: "At the meeting in Cape Town, university leaders from ARUA and The Guild affirmed their support for the draft AU-EU Innovation Agenda by identifying practical ways about how they could help to implement it. Perhaps the most important source of agreement in Cape Town was the transformative nature of how we can build up science capacities in Africa, in close collaboration with European partners. To achieve this, we need the active support of policy-makers at the national levels as well as in the EU and the AU, and it is now essential that we reflect together on what it will take to turn the draft AU-EU Innovation Agenda into reality."
9 November 2022
Watch the behind-the-scenes video of the joint meeting below.
Homepage image and video: © University of Cape Town, slideshow photos: © University of Cape Town, Emmanuel Adu-Danso and ARUA