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FEATURE: Building university leadership for climate compatible development in Southern Africa


Botha Kruger, from Higher Education Management Africa, reports on a new project to build capacity and leadership within African higher education institutions for climate compatible development research, teaching, policy making and community engagement.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is an intergovernmental organisation comprising 15 member states. It has a shared population of over 257 million people, living over a surface area slightly bigger than China. Its diverse membership is reflected in a diversity of climate profiles. From the Namib Desert to the Great Rift Valley to the Aldabra Atoll, Southern Africa is one of the regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Floods, droughts, land degradation and desertification risks are compounded by structural poverty and a large number of subsistence farmers.

Enabling regional sustainable development is a core pillar of SADC’s approach and has also been integrated into an ambitious new programme of the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA). SARUA was established in 2007 and its membership currently comprises the Vice-Chancellors of 61 universities within SADC. Its new programme, entitled Capacity Development for Climate Change, aims to revitalise higher education in the region by building a regional scientific knowledge network to benefit the region’s response to climate change.

Currently African universities produce less than 0.7% of global scholarly publications. The average university enrolment rate for SADC countries stands at 6.3% and is projected to only reach 16.3% in 2050. Although the region has increased its education spending significantly, demand for higher education, especially by young women, outstrips capacity. Collaborating towards shared capacity development is a must. SADC recognises that “no one SADC Member State can alone offer the necessary investment in higher education to offer the full range of world quality education and training programmes at affordable cost and on a sustainable basis.”

The five year Capacity Development for Climate Change programme aims to develop capacity, ownership and leadership within African higher education institutions for climate compatible development (CCD) research, teaching, policy making and community engagement. For the first year, CDKN is supporting SARUA to conduct a mapping study of the current state of CCD research, teaching and learning within SADC member states. A consortium of climate change, development and higher education specialists from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are implementing the work under the guidance of Prof. Heila Lotz-Sisitka (Rhodes University) and Penny Urquhart (Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report).

The mapping study approach makes use of in-country workshops with multiple stakeholders to capture as much information as possible through conversations with local experts. These outputs are supplemented with desk-based research and an online survey for all participants. Workshops have been held in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Malawi, Tanzania, Angola and Zimbabwe. Each workshop was hosted by a local university and comprised representatives from government, civil society, private sector, higher education and other relevant national sectors.

While it is a daunting research and logistics exercise to identify and bring together the experts in each country, the need for such a programme is widely supported. Bringing together different stakeholders in the same room created a forum for discussions on how knowledge from various disciplines is produced and how this can be used collaboratively to build new models, inform policy, and strengthen transdisciplinary research.

Delegates at the Swaziland workshop

Delegates at the Swaziland workshop

In Swaziland, a government representative proposed using the national university more to conduct the research necessary for government programmes: “For once in our lives we felt: why don’t activities like this continue, we would like to collaborate with our university. It was an opportunity for us to say, this is what we do out there, and also to hear the universities’ point of view. So really it was an excellent opportunity to share ideas.”

In Angola, Mr Luís Constantino, Advisor to the Minister of Environment, reiterated that the mapping study outputs will enable the Ministry of Environment to be more exposed to other networks and practices in the region.

In Botswana, a university representative stressed the role of universities in educating future leaders about CCD, while a South African university researcher identified joint research with national utilities as a major opportunity for influencing policy.

Some participants valued the different perspectives on issues that might for others have become mundane: “I would like to thank you for the opportunity for us to participate in this important workshop, because we remain uninformed of the risks of degraded economic development and the danger that exists”, said a Mozambican university participant.

University participants are also excited to hear there is an organisation like SARUA focused on creating trans-boundary connections and eager to use its network to seek out like-minded peers in the region. A Swazi academic said: “Previously this was just at the level of the Vice Chancellors. But now, with this workshop, we see the usefulness of SARUA at our level, and in the country, as a national network.”

The workshops have shown there are many teaching programmes, research outputs and policy documents of value in the region that would benefit from a wider audience. If a member of the Mulungushi University Environmental Association is made aware of relevant research done by the Renewable Energy Association of Swaziland, or a Ph.D. candidate in Mauritius finds out about the Centre of Excellence in Environmental Law at North West University, the mapping study has already played a role in kickstarting the networking process.

By the end of 2013, a country report will be produced for each country visited. Each report will include a country-specific CCD needs assessment and institutional capacity assessment. An integrated regional framework outlining how different stakeholders can contribute to producing and using CCD-specific knowledge will then be developed to match needs, gaps and opportunities across countries.

This mapping study is only the start of SARUA’s five year programme. From 2014 onwards, the focus will be on establishing the identified networks. In a few years’ time, we hope to see more graduates, new knowledge and aligned policies which address country-specific, but also regional climate change challenges.

The message we get from SADC researchers and policy makers is that they want more information, more collaboration and more regional networking. The benefit of a strong university sector which produces relevant knowledge for the region is understood. Everybody is rearing to go.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

For more information on this CDKN-supported project, please visit the project page. Images courtesy of Botha Kruger.

 

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