The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) trained 48 senior academic leaders from RUFORUM member universities in science and academic leadership. Organized as a post-RUFORUM Annual General Meeting event, the training was held at the Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe, Malawi from 29th October to 1st November 2017.
The training was organized in response to a request from Vice Chancellors of the RUFORUM Network, in 2016, for the Network to prepare “leaders in the pipeline” to take over when their terms of office expire to ensure smooth transition. Thus participants were drawn from holders of positions where successors to Vice Chancellors are likely to be drawn from, specifically, deputy vice chancellors/vice rectors/vice presidents, academic registrars, and heads of institutes in RUFORUM member universities. Twenty five (25) universities in 15 African countries were represented.
The four-day training covered critical aspects of institutional management and leadership. Issues discussed included communicating professionally, managing conflict, negotiation, priority setting, emotional intelligence, making decision, managing meetings, and shaping a positive culture of science in an institution. Other topics included goal setting, effective delegation, and approaches for attracting, recruiting, and retaining quality staff. As expressed by one participant, “These topics are seldom handled by most trainers and yet they relate to day-to-day management of institutions”.
Participants exchanged experiences and reflections on how they are managing students, lecturers, and researchers in their respective institutions. These examples were used as case studies for the training and participants generated solutions to prevailing difficulties within their respective institutions. The regional, institutional, and disciplinary diversity was useful in providing different approaches for solving leadership and management challenges in an academic environment. In addition, the event provided a valuable networking and partnership building exercise.
Participants recommended that all university leaders and managers should attend this training. “This training has been so useful to me. I would like to invite the team to my university as well so that they go through the same training”, said another participant. Dr. Solange Uwituze from the RUFORUM Secretariat commended the unique methodology used for the training, especially the use of real work life examples, group exercises and continuous reflection.
This training was part of a series of leadership and management trainings that the RUFORUM Network has engaged in to strengthen the capacity of university managers to steer universities as agents of economic development. Previous trainings have been held also in Mangochi, Malalwi as well as in Kigali, Rwanda in partnership with other partners. Future trainings are envisioned, resources permitting, as the feedback shows a great appreciation for the training among university leaders as well as a need to scale it up.