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Building Stronger Universities at KNUST: Training the next generation of researchers in the production of sustainable demand-driven research outputs


Over the past decade, the DANIDA funded Building Stronger Universities project helped Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)  foster impactful collaboration across university departments and with external partners.

By Emmanuel Kwasi Debrah

The Building Stronger Universities (BSU) programme at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) spanned a period of 12 years, from October 2011 to December 2023. University of Aarhus and University of Copenhagen were the main Danish partners.

BSUI, II and III provided training for academic and administrative staff, improving grant management systems, postgraduate education, library and laboratory services and academia-industry collaboration.

The grant awarded for BSU III was DKK 13,000,000. It was shared equally between the northern and southern partners. The project also received funding to the tune of DKK 1,386,560 from BSUIII’s unallocated funds to carry out an additional set of activities in line with the objectives of the project.

The BSU III project was implemented in four thematic areas: Climate Smart Agriculture and Environmental Management (WP1), Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WP2), Health Delivery Systems (WP3) and University-wide Support Systems and Facilities for Research (WP4).

Training the next generation of researchers
Although the Department of Environmental Science could boast of several research works since its establishment in 2019, it could not court external collaborations to conduct demand-driven research.

“As a department, we had always been actively engaged in research work but we lacked one thing, and that was the ability and capacity to collaborate with useful stakeholders to conduct demand-driven research. We obviously needed to build our capacity in teaching and research. The BSU project support was far-reaching. It included research and training activities in Denmark, and through the small grant research components, BSU II and BSU III provided funding that enabled two of our staff to generate data for their PhD degrees. I have been part of the BSU project since 2011 and I acknowledge the immense support given by BSU to our newly established department,” says Prof. Jonathan Hogarh, Head of the Department of Environmental Science, KNUST.

Prof. David Wemegah, then a lecturer in the Department of Physics, was working on the impact of municipal solid waste on the groundwater quality within the Kumasi metropolis when he was given the opportunity to work on his PhD project with the hydrogeophysical group at Aarhus University in Denmark. This gave him a deeper understanding of the methods used to study municipal solid waste.

“Fortunately for us, BSU III provided the platform and the research funds to collaborate with relevant stakeholders both within and outside the university. By doing so, we have been able to carry out demand-driven research,” he notes.

With the skills he had gained, Prof. Wemegah collaborated with the Provost of the College of Science, Prof. Leonard Amekudzi, to embark on research to determine the impact of climate and land use on the hydrological cycle in the Owabi catchment area. Thanks to BSU, a Master’s student, Albert Banunle, came on board, and his research culminated in the award of his doctorate degree. Albert is now a lecturer at the Department of Environmental Science.

“The support that was offered to me by BSU helped me build my capacity as a student, and later it provided me with the assistance I needed to complete my PhD project successfully. Since then I have gained employment in the department as a lecturer,” says Banunle.

Prof. Eric Kwabena Forkuo, Director of the School of Graduate Studies, also applauded the collaboration. BSU supported the development of four important policy documents designed to enhance graduate education.

“These documents include a graduate student handbook, guidelines for higher degree research supervision, guidelines for the preparation and evaluation of theses, policies on publication and a doctoral college and an online thesis deposition and management system. These initiatives have enhanced the quality and efficiency of our graduate programme. The online deposition and management system simplifies the submission and processing of PhD theses at the university. The system has been expanded to include all graduate theses at the university and the department has recorded about 1,800 submissions. The system also provides access to the rich database of research outputs that can be used for learning and dissemination,” he explains.

Leveraging the spirit of co-creation
Dr Bhavana Singh was a self-sponsored first year PhD microbiology student when she was introduced to the BSU III staff PhD support programme. Dr Singh used the BSU funding to complete the molecular medicine aspect of her research work by participating in the Health Delivery Systems research group.

“BSU has been very, very helpful in building capacity at KNUST. No wonder it is called the Building Stronger University programme. I will also say that apart from capacity building, it has helped us develop relationships with our northern partners,” she declares.

Overall, 15 KNUST staff have earned PhD degrees through their participation in Building Stronger Universities.

Through BSU, Prof. Patrick Addo-Fordjour, an ecologist at the Department of Theoretical and Applied Biology, has been able to establish the necessary collaboration to strengthen his research activities in Ghana’s tropical forest.

“There have been other collaborators who want us to carry this work further even after BSU. I have personally collaborated with researchers from Switzerland, Germany and Canada all because of the experience I gained from doing collaborative research under BSU III,” he says.

When Mr Kiril Manevski, a young agroecologist from Aarhus University, arrived in Ghana, he had no choice but to adapt to the tropical climate. Besides establishing bonds with Ghanaian researchers, he benefited personally.

“I think Building Stronger University had a very positive and very important impact on me as a person. Familiarising myself with this part of the world, where the climate is different, where the socio-economic, political, and pedagogical conditions are also quite different, helped me not only as a scientist but also as a person. Besides boosting my self-development, this experience has been a great asset in my collaboration with colleagues and people around me,” says Mr Kiril Manevski.

Entrepreneurship on wheels
The BSU project contributed to building the capacity of aspiring entrepreneurs at the Kumasi Business Incubator (KBI) at KNUST, which mission statement is as follows:

KNUST exists to advance knowledge in science and technology through creating an environment for undertaking relevant research, quality teaching, entrepreneurship training, and community engagement to improve the quality of life.

Mr Elija Adusei of Parlour Co. Ltd recounts how a booking software programme developed by their start-up had performed poorly in the past, and how that is no longer the case since their participation in BSU III.

“So, they took us through all these initiatives to implement in our business to scale up the product. Before BSU, we had only a few bookings and very few people using our software. Less than 100 people used our software, but we have been able to scale up and now over 600 people use our software and we get between 10 to 20 bookings per day, which is actually a significant increase,” says Elija Adusei.

Mr Elija Adusei also appreciates the acquisition of skills in public speaking and ways to attract investors.

“We had challenges whenever we had meetings with potential investors about funding. We usually found speaking to investors difficult. Olaf and Michael took us through how to get funding from investors. They made us think about whether we ourselves would have invested in our business, if we had been the investors. Is our product viable? If so, then we should know beforehand what exactly we needed the investors for and what we expected them to do. After going through this process, we were able to put ourselves out there and find opportunities for funding.”

Prof. William Oduro, WP2 leader, has a positive view of how BSU has changed the entrepreneurial landscape at the university.

“We have clearly flagged entrepreneurship and community engagement in the university’s mission statement. With BSU it has come alive and the various aspects of entrepreneurship have become part of this university. Both lecturers and students are now aware of what they are supposed to do,” he says.

Building a resilient Office of Grants and Research
The BSU project has been instrumental in fostering a research-friendly environment through its collaboration with the Office of Grants and Research (OGR).

The move has led to the development of two systems: The Research Management Information System (REMIS) and the Grants Accounting Management System (GAMS).

“Whenever management needed information about grants in the form of the number of projects, the total budgets, the number of funders and so on, OGR had to go across the university and pick up this information manually. This resulted in untimely data and probably also inaccurate information,” Emmanuel Ebo Ocran, a systems developer, recounts.

The director of the Office and Grants and Research, Prof. Philip Antwi-Agyei, believes that the exposure the BSU collaboration offered has led to the efficient management of grants.

“Some of the staff in our office were exposed to best practices in research and grant management through their involvement in the north-south and south-south collaborative activities and capacity-building workshops organised by the BSU project. Through this partnership, we have learned a substantial amount about grant management. We have also learned how our partners handle their research. And this was all done through BSU under a WP4,” he says.

Ms Hannah Adom-Eyison, OGR Grants and Research Manager says,

“Before the inception of BSU, many people at the university did not know anything about the Office and Grants and Research. But many of the BSU activities were carried out in collaboration with the Office of Grants and Research and it became a common goal to build the capacity of our researchers and attract more research grants to undertake relevant research, perform quality teaching, entrepreneurship training, and improve the quality of life through community engagements.  





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