The ACU as facilitators of change?


I always leave Nigeria with mixed emotions. Hugely impressed by the enthusiasm for higher education, and the optimism that expansion will produce social and economic benefit, mixed with concern that expectations of the system are perhaps just too great.

I’ve just returned from a two week visit - to support seminars at Obafemi Awololo University and the University of Ibadan, as part of the ACU project on ‘Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA)’, and to take part in the 6th Conference of the West African Research and Innovation Management Association (WARIMA). Both provided opportunities to cement long standing links – and make new friends.

Nigerian universities are no strangers to change. There are now 124 of them, including around 50 private institutions. The DRUSSA programme aims to help them develop structures that facilitate their research being taken up by external users. The challenge is being grasped enthusiastically – Ibadan has established new research management and public relations structures in the past two years, and in the week of our visit their Senate approved a new policy on intellectual property. Much of this would have happened without DRUSSA or any donor aid – our job is to raise its profile, and support those acting as champions for change. That’s as it should be. Despite the natural charm and politeness of their representatives, African universities don’t take kindly to being told what to do by donor agencies. Nor should they. The record of donors in African higher education over the last thirty years has been mixed, to put it mildly.

Don’t expect change to take effect overnight. New structures face huge constraints – the need for more qualified researchers, the time and incentives to make uptake work and demand for university research findings amongst potential ‘users’ to name but a few. DFID has been generous in funding our work over a five year period, and the ACU has worked with the European Union, Carnegie and others. Change happens over time, but does not necessarily fit into the neat projects. Doesn’t the same apply in other countries, too? After thirty years and countless initiatives to increase knowledge transfer in the UK, few would argue that we now have it right. The important thing is that we are moving in the right direction.

As for WARIMA – I can hardly believe that it is six years since the ACU helped establish the organisation, with support from the England-Africa Partnerships programme. Again, growth has been gradual – the hundred plus delegates were perhaps too concentrated on twenty or so institutions. Nigeria remains dominant – although there was a strong delegation for Sierra Leone, and others from Ghana and Liberia. Overall, the organisation is stable, solvent and active. A success for the donor scheme that backed its development. I wonder whether, six years on, anyone is interested in the impact made by the England-Africa Partnerships – or whether the interests of the donors was confined to what was achieved during the ten months or so of the project itself?

Last modified on 20/05/2019
Tags: change, WARIMA, Africa, DRUSSA, research