Lasting footprints after 13 years of Building Stronger Universities at the University of Ghana
Cecilia Smith is one of the 15 PhD students, who completed her PhD-studies under the Building Stronger University program at University of Ghana.
The Building Stronger Universities programme at the University of Ghana is drawing to a close. Initiated 13 years ago, it leaves behind remarkable footprints at both academic and administrative levels
By Timothy Ngnenbe
The Building Stronger Universities (BSU) program has had a significant impact at the University of Ghana. It has played a crucial role in boosting research among faculty members. Since it started, at least 15 PhD students have completed their studies through this program. It has provided training for hundreds of research administrators and many Masters students, and facilitated research management.
The program has been a big help in improving research management and building skills at the university, says Professor George Obeng Adjei, the coordinator of Building Stronger Universities at University of Ghana.
Building Stronger University programme was initiated in 2011 as a partnership programme between universities in Denmark and institutions of higher education and research in a number of developing countries including Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania. At the University of Ghana, it is running to the end of this year (2023). It has been implemented in three phases.
Three phases of Building Stronger Universities
The goal of the first BSU I phase (2011-2013) was to enhance the overall research environment at the University of Ghana. The activities included creating an enabling environment for the upgrading of the academic qualifications of academic staff to PhD status. The programme granted 10 full PhD scholarships in specific thematic areas to to some of the university´s teaching faculty, who did not already have a doctoral degree.
BSU II (2014-2016) focused on strengthening training and building research capacity in the four priority research areas specified in University of Ghana’s 2014-2024 strategic plan. These thematic areas were i) malaria, ii) climate change, iii) food production and processing, and iv) development policy and poverty monitoring and evaluation.
BSU III 2017-2023, was a collaboration with the Universities of Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark.
This phase has sought to consolidate the gains and achievements of the earlier BSU phases through targeted and focused delivery of some of the activities initiated in Phase II. The thematic focus of BSU III is malaria research (with specific focus on haemoglobinopathies), climate change research (with specific focus on adaptation and mitigation), and institutional capacity building (with emphasis on outreach and engagement with external stakeholders).
The program has been very successful with great achievements in research capacity building. Strong links have been formed between research environments in Ghana and Denmark, which will show very important when we together compete for international funding e.g., funding from the European Commission research programs, says Senior Scientist Finn Plauborg from Aarhus University, Denmark. He has been the lead from the Danish side for BSUII and BSUIII and coordinated the role of other involved Danish institutions.
PhDs, Masters, and new guidelines for post-doctoral training
Thirteen years after its start, the Building Stronger Universities program at the University of Ghana has left a lasting impact
All 10 of the BSU I PhD scholars are now employed by the university in various roles. In fact, some of them have become heads of department. Similarly, of the four BSU II supported PhDs, all of them are now faculty members at UG or other universities in Ghana, says Prof. Adjei, who also highlights the development of electronic textbooks that include Africa contextual literature for students, and post-doctoral engagement guidelines for the University, as significant achievements.
For the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the university’s Office of Research, Innovation and Development (ORID), Prof. Felix Ankomah Asante, the guidelines for post-doctoral studies that were developed under BSU stand out.
The university did not have guidelines for post-doctoral training before BSU, and we would have had to set up a committee to develop them at a cost; but BSU has done just that, and we have gone through the necessary quality control measures for adoption. I submitted the BSU guidelines to the Vice-Chancellor and it was recommended that the university use them. Recently, they have been submitted to the Business and Executive Committee of the academic board where they have gone through the first reading and they have provisionally approved the document. Corrections are now being made, and after that, we move them to the University Council for acceptance, says Prof. Felix Ankomah Asante.
New video conferencing facility
The BSU programme also supported the School of Graduate Studies in establishing a video conferencing facility for seminar presentations and oral examinations for PhD students.
The Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Prof. Robert Darko Osei, explains that the video conferencing facility had helped the school cut costs drastically.
Prior to the establishment of the facility, we had to bring examiners to Ghana or from outside Accra to undertake PhD oral examinations, but now, because of that facility, we are able to hold vivas without having to fly examiners all the way to Ghana, he says.
Climate change research and teaching
Another benefit of the BSU programme has been the building of capacity in climate change research and teaching in addition to a strategic partnership between University of Aarhus and University of Ghana.
We have developed a strategic partnership with the University of Aarhus and developed a 10-year research strategy as part of the objective to keep our engagement beyond the lifespan of the BSU, says Prof. Kwadwo Owusu, who lead the climate change research component of BSU III.
As a commendable outcome of BSU, he also highlights the equipment for field research obtained through the third phase of Danida’s funding to the Building Stronger Universities programme and secured through a proposal submitted for additional funding under the BSU III project, by researchers engaged under the climate change component.
The machines and instruments we bought are stationed in agricultural fields, measuring in real-time, amongst other things, how carbon and the crops are reacting. We have done some research and published, but the bulk of the work is still data that is coming in, says Prof. Kwadwo Owusu.
Strengthening global partnerships for development
The success of the BSU programme brings into focus the relevance of strengthening global partnerships for development as stipulated by the United Nation (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17.
Specifically, SDG 17.9 stresses the need to “enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.”
To consolidate the gains made under the BSU programme, there is the need for a sustainability plan, as this would give real meaning to SDG 17.
Prof Adjei is of the view that the knowledge and experience gained from collaborative research and capacity building on research-grant and proposal writing as well as improvement of the grants management environment will be one of the ways to sustain the programme. He is hopeful that, because of the human resource and infrastructure developed under BSU over the last decade, the University will be well positioned to attract further grants from other donor agencies.
It is my hope that the scientists and researchers from both Denmark and Ghana, who spearheaded the work packages from BSU I to III will continue to find ways to work together and look for funding from other sources to carry on with the collaborative research activities and projects. In my view, the Danish Ghanaian collaboration is important and I wish we could maintain and use the network and experience gathered to put together proposals for other grants to sustain similar initiatives, Professor George Obeng Adjei says.
Felix Ankomah Asante, Vice Chancellor
Robert Darko Osei, Dean, University of Ghana
Micheal Ofori, Head, Department of Immunology
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Kwadwo Owusu, Director, Climate Change and Sustainability