The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tawana Kupe hosted a welcome lunch today for a delegation from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) in Kenya, led by the Kenyan Ministry of Education Principal Secretary of the State Department of University Education and Research, Ambassador Simon Nabukwesi, the Chair of the MMUST Council: Dr Jane Musangi Mutua and the Vice-Chancellor: Prof Solomon Shibairo. The MMUST delegation will spend a week at UP from 14-19 February engaging with faculties and support service entities across the university as part of a benchmarking exercise. The benchmarking is intended to support MMUST in establishing a Research Management Office (RMO) as part of their institutional goal of transitioning into a research-intensive university that cultivates partnerships and co-generates knowledge that is of intrinsic value to society.
The benchmarking exercise is part of the “Building Research Capacity for Sustainable Water and Food Security in Drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa” (BRECcIA) collaborative project involving 6 universities from the UK, Malawi, Kenya and Ghana. This initiative is led by the University of Southampton and with technical support from 8 international organisations including the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (SARIMA). The 4-year UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project aims to develop research capacity across institutions, with a particular focus on improving food and water security for the most vulnerable members of society.
During the course of the BRECciA project, researchers and professional staff at MMUST and other partner universities have received capacity building in various areas ranging from grants and contracts management, research ethics, and intellectual property and commercialisation. This has enabled MMUST to conceptualise the establishment of a functional RMO. As part of this process, UP is committed to partnering with MMUST to share its experiences in the journey to becoming a research-intensive university. This is within the context of UP’s internationalisation and global engagement initiative – the African Global University Project (AGUP) which intends to facilitate purpose-driven collaborative partnerships with key strategic partners. Therefore, during the benchmarking exercise, the MMUST delegation will engage with UP faculties and various transdisciplinary platforms to assess the governance mechanisms and best practices to foster STI, explore the practicalities of translating research into impact pathways to society and increase understanding of the approaches valuable in increasing research funding and collaborative partnerships. In this regard, Dr Julie Reeves from Southampton University noted: “The UP-MMUST engagements and consultations form the bedrock of the evidence-based framework needed to strengthen research capacity and capabilities for Kenyan universities. We are proud to be part of this exciting journey and look forward to the recommendations from this benchmarking exercise”.
On behalf of the Government of Kenya (GoK), Ambassador Nabukwesi emphasized the importance of: “Collaboration between South African and Kenyan universities in research that is geared towards solving real-life problems”. He also said that “The GoK, through the Ministry of Education appreciates the role of South African universities, especially the University of Pretoria, in building capacity for some of the upcoming universities in Kenya”. The MMUST Council Chair Dr Mutua was also supportive of the collaboration and highlighted the importance of the benchmarking exercise by stating that: “We are here as the MMUST Council and Senior Leadership to observe, interact and benefit from the best practices in research management that we can then apply at Masinde Muliro University”.
During the welcome reception, Prof Kupe highlighted the importance of these global partnerships to support institutional capacity building in Africa by noting: “Collaboration and partnerships, certainly opens up the possibilities for leaders to re-think and re-imagine how higher education institutions can collectively mobilise towards strengthening and advancing the research agenda of the continent”.
His counterpart Prof Shibairo echoed these sentiments in his remarks by pointing out: “This benchmarking exercise comes at an apt time when the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined a new way of life. I would like to extend my gratitude to the leadership at the University of Pretoria for their warm hospitality and expertise as well as the support of the implementation partners: SARIMA, BRECciA and the University of Southampton. We are optimistic that this valuable exercise will widen our perspectives and guide us in repositioning MMUST’s strategic priorities in the short and medium-term. We have committed to focus on research as a key pillar in the development of the University”.
On a final note: Ms Nelisha Naidoo, the General Manager for SARIMA highlighted: “The very purpose of SARIMA is to bring together research and innovation professionals in Southern Africa, Africa and abroad. The UP-MMUST benchmarking exercise promotes and facilitates the exchange of best practices between institutions on the continent, strengthening our research and innovation ecosystems and capacity in Africa so that research undertaken on the continent is more impactful and efficiently supported, ultimately leading to new local products and services reaching the marketplace, that will positively impact our societies and economies”.