Structured Training for African Researchers

Status: Completed project

Duration: 2013-2017

Project lead: The Association of Commonwealth Universities

Project partners: University of Cape Town, South Africa

Funder: Robert Bosch Stiftung

Project award: EUR 400,000

Summary: One of the greatest threats to the development of African higher education and research systems is a lack of qualified and experienced academics. The number of staff with PhDs are generally low and doctoral training needs to expand. But this is only one obstacle. Even if staff have a PhD, other issues include: limited research funding; significant teaching schedules; heavy administrative duties; ineffective research cultures within departments; a lack of opportunities to connect with peers and participate in academic networks, and ill-defined career paths or an absence of structure and progression.

Coupled with this, many of the ablest and most experienced researchers are moving ever closer to retirement. Unless the situation is addressed, the consequences for the university system in Africa will be disastrous and will be felt by universities outside the continent.

To address these issues, Structured Training for African Researchers (STARS), working collaboratively with African universities, provided structured professional development course to staff early in their careers in order to help to strengthen the long-term vitality of research and teaching activities. The project developed effective support mechanisms and professional development training for early career academics. STARS did this through:

  1. Assisting participating universities to strengthen and develop their institution’s support framework for early career researchers;
  2. Collaboratively developed an openly licensed, online professional skills course, which is backed-up by individual mentoring;
  3. Helped institutions to adapt the training courses and embed them within their own training programmes.

STARS seminar, 1 October 2014 (University in Cape Town, South Africa)

University of Cape Town participants taking part in Module 1 online seminar, October 2014

Outcomes: The project has enabled the ACU to offer a robust, high quality series of nine online modules to universities across the developing world. This will help to bolster the next generation of academic staff in Africa and strengthen the long-term vitality of their research and teaching.

Overall 753 emerging academics from African universities have taken part in the facilitated online course within the project timeline. Participants came from 25 institutions located in 7 countries in Africa. In 2016, 293 early career researchers from 14 institutions took part in the training, with a number of modules presented live at a workshop at Ebonyi State University, Nigeria. In 2017, a workshop at the University of Lagos on institutionalising STARS in Nigerian universities was attended by 40 participants from 7 institutions.

STARS participants listed the blended format (37.5%) and the interaction (22.2%) with other participants as one of the strengths of the programme. Survey respondents indicated that the STARS course had helped them in a variety of areas. In particular, nearly half of the respondents to the final survey credited the STARS programme with helping them to increase their skills in research methodologies (43.1%) in contrast to other skills.

Outputs: STARS resulted in nine online modules, which are published under a Creative Commons license so that universities across the developing world can adapt and embed the material within their own professional development offerings.

The training materials consist of a series of webinars, together with exercises, discussion questions and practical work that will assist staff to engage successfully in the modern research environment.

It is suited for both local and international use in universities, where a local convener is trained to provide the necessary support to help staff complete the assignments that accompany each webinar.