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Press release: Boost for Academic Mobility in Africa

A consortium of six African universities have been granted €2,3 million (R25,24 million) for a ground-breaking academic mobility scheme that will see 72 students and 8 staff members cross national and disciplinary borders for postgraduate research aimed at helping the continent address the twin challenges of climate change adaptation and natural resource depletion.

The institutions involved are the universities of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Ghana, Mekelle (Ethiopia), Nairobi (Kenya), Nigeria and Stellenbosch (South Africa). Their consortium is called Transdisciplinary Training for Resource Efficiency and Climate Change Adaptation in Africa – or TRECCAfrica, for short.

The funds were granted by the Intra-ACP Academic Mobility Scheme of the European Commission, working through the African Union. They will be disbursed over a period of five years.

“Significantly, TRECCAfrica is an African programme, by African institutions, for Africa. It will strengthen academic networks and collaboration on the continent,” says Prof Mark Swilling of the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University (SU).

He heads up the TsamaHub, a focal point for transdisciplinary studies in sustainability at SU, and is academic director of the Sustainability Institute outside Stellenbosch. Under TRECCAfrica, these two institutions will be hosting 22 students and academic staff members from elsewhere in Africa for varying periods, from short exchanges to four years’ full-time research, starting in July 2012. Seven postgraduate students from SU will do a portion of their degrees at one of the other partner institutions.

“This is a unique venture,” says SU’s Dr Christoff Pauw, manager of international academic networks at the institution, and coordinator of TRECCAfrica.

“In the past, funding used to be provided for students from Africa to attend universities in Europe. TRECCAfrica breaks the mould by allowing for mobility between higher education institutions in different countries on our own continent.”

John van Breda, TsamaHub programme manager, says each university will select postgraduate students whose research is related to TRECCAfrica’s twin themes, and together with core staff from the different universities they will come together each year for a summer school focused on appropriate transdisciplinary methodologies and research methods.

According to Swilling, climate change will have a greater impact on Africa than on any other region of the world.
“Agricultural production is predicted to drop by 50%, our coastal cities are likely to experience an inundation of sea water into fresh-water aquifers, rainfall patterns will change, with some areas getting drier and others wetter, and we’ll see accelerated urbanisation and rural depopulation.

“But it’s not all negative. There is ample opportunity now to explore new ways of doing things and coming up with innovative solutions to the challenges that we face.”

Swilling considers the grant to be an endorsement of SU’s HOPE Project, an institution-wide search for solutions to some of Africa’s most pressing needs. “TsamaHub is an initiative of the HOPE Project, and our approach contributed to the success of the consortium’s application,” he said.

The TRECCAfrica evaluation report states that the programmes presented “are of high quality and … not only academically but also socially relevant and responsive to real-world problems and challenges.”

The consortium includes two associate partners – the African Technology Policy Studies Network, headquartered in Kenya, and the Open Society Foundation, Switzerland, which also supports the African Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (ACCAI), an allied collaboration between TRECCAfrica partners.