Welcome to the Thirteenth RUFORUM Annual General Meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi

Prof. Adipala Ekwamu – Executive Secretary, RUFORUM

I welcome you to RUFORUM’s 13th Annual General Meeting (AGM) to be held 25-27 October 2017 in Lilongwe, Malawi. Since the signing of the MoU between RUFORUM and the African Union Commission (AUC) in 2014, which requested RUFORUM to play a greater role and provide support at the continental level, particularly in the implementation of the Science Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) 2024, RUFORUM has continued to grow.

The AUC requested RUFORUM initially through its then Chairperson, HE Madam Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and more recently through the current Chair, HE Prof. Moussa Faki Mahamat, to identify and implement strategies to increase the contribution of universities to delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Agenda 2063 – The Africa We want, while recognising the principle of subsidiarity. The AUC was well cognisant that as a sector, universities hold the largest pool of trained professionals on the continent and should be the central component of implementing the STISA 2024. They also provide opportunity to take advantage of demographic dividends.

In response to this, RUFORUM has continued to grow both in scope and scale. From a membership of 42 universities in 2014, to 54 member universities at the last AGM in South Africa, RUFORUM membership is now at 66 universities in 26 African countries across the Continent. This expansion has been both within and across countries, and also in scope of the network. Key issues that we responded to were:

  • how to enhance the participation of rural youth in agricultural development, including generation of new agribusiness -led employment opportunities. How can universities package and brand Agricultural programs in a way that is “Cool” for young people and encourage greater participation in ‘profitable’ agricultural value addition;
  • how to enhance university relevance and quality against a backdrop of an expanding university sector;
  • how to increase the impact of university activities on rural development and indeed the SDGs;
  • how to enhance staff capacity development, particularly at PhD level by escalating postgraduate training recognising that a number of staff continue to retire; and
  • how to enhance government financing for research/ knowledge generation/postgraduate education to support a science led development agenda in our continent.

RUFORUM’s work during the last year has continued to be driven by these and other key issues.

RUFORUM’s 12th AGM meeting in Cape Town, noted that universities are the basis for economic development and should link university knowledge directly to address issues that affect communities and the continent at large. RUFORUM continued to implement its farmer responsive and farmer relevant research through its competitive grants. The grants are supporting PhD, Masters and Bachelors students working within research teams to provide innovative solutions that respond directly to the challenges that smallholder farmers and their organisations face.

To support university staff capacity building, and making use of our own network, RUFORUM Universities committed to train 325 Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA), PhD holders, in the next five years as part of our mandate to build a pool of the next generation of African scientists, leaders and trainers who will support the escalation of knowledge generation from African universities. We noted that building a quality higher education system in Africa needs massive investments to provide the needed research infrastructure, and collaboration best based on co-defined agenda. A linkage with TVET institutions will support universities to explore how to enhance the practical aspects of training and improve job relevance of their training. Our recent suite of Community Action Research Programme Projects (CARPs) has initiated explorative partnerships with TVET institutions to enhance this learning which we hope will lead to greater workplace preparedness for university graduates.

We embarked on a continental wide call for African governments to invest more in higher education. RUFORUM has focused its efforts through support to the African Union Committee of 10 African Heads of State and Government championing education, science and technology development in the Continent. During our engagement with the various government leaders, we realised the need to enhance the linkages between evidence and policy implementation. Evidence shows that there is an important link between Africa’s education systems and economic prospects. In a year, a 1% increase in average tertiary education levels yields up to a 12% increase in Growth Domestic Product (GDP) yet there is a shortage of graduates, especially PhD holders, and widespread shortage of staff needed for a vibrant Science, Technology and Innovation system and significantly less participation of women compared to men. Such indications call for greater priority investment to higher education, particularly in postgraduate training, by governments and their partners.

The Communique of the meeting of African Ministers of Education, Science, Technology and Agriculture in October 2016 called on RUFORUM to explore partnership with the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank to provide significant support to strengthening Africa’s higher education sector. RUFORUM has initiated design of the ‘Strengthening African Higher Agricultural Education’ Project together with the World Bank which has agreed to set aside up to US$250 million through IDA funds to 6-8 countries for the program. The program development objective is to ‘’strengthen competitiveness of African universities to produce skilled and entrepreneurial agricultural graduates who drive innovative agricultural sector leading to structural transformation of African economies’. RUFORUM continues to engage with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Islamic Development Bank (ISB) to explore partnerships for strengthening Higher Education, and STI development in the continent.

More recently, we initiated a reflective process to consolidate gains by the network over the years and to assess and identify the role that the network should play to support universities in Africa to contribute to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (2030). The process is encapsulated in the draft “RUFORUM Vision 2030 strategy – The African Universities’ Agenda for Agricultural Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (AHESTI)”. We sincerely hope that this visioning process will allow us to strategically position RUFORUM activities, and, by extension, African universities to be more responsive to the emerging global issues that need to be tackled to deliver on the STISA 2024, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Agenda 2063. We hope to obtain guidance on this document during the 13th AGM. This process will have implications for our Strategic Business Plan (2015-2020) that was approved by the AGM in 2015 as well as other frameworks of the organisation.

The 13th AGM will allow member universities, stakeholders, and partners to take stock of RUFORUM’s performance, relevance, and sustainability and provide guidance for going forward.

I thank the Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology as well as the four public universities in Malawi (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mzuzu University, University of Malawi and Malawi University of Science and Technology), for hosting the 13th AGM, and other RUFORUM member universities and stakeholders for participating in the AGM activities.

I welcome you to the 13th RUFORUM Annual General Meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi, and indeed to the “Warm Heart of Africa”.

This is our first issue in a series of articles we are releasing as part of our RUFORUM AGM Digests. You can get more details about the meeting at http://www.ruforum.org/AGM2017/ and more information about RUFORUM at www.ruforum.org. You many also join us online using Social Media for real time updates. Our Official hashtag is #Visioning2030

Click here to download the AGM Digest issue one.

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