The Building Stronger University initiative (BSU) is unique as it fills the gaps in institutional capacities at universities in the South that no other initiatives have focused on. BSUII involved new thematic foci and a fresh round of matchmaking processes that brought together researchers from Danish University Consortia and from universities in the South.
The cooperation between Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and a Consortium of Danish Universities (CDU) has progressed substantially. A top-down approach has deliberately been avoided and the direct collaboration between peers at the same level has ensured ownership and motivation from South and North. The number of institutions and the adjacent portfolio of individual competences on both the SUA and the Danish side have been well-balanced and effectively addressed the tasks. Development of two new PhD programs (in Agricultural Value Chains, Agroecology) and one Master’s Program (in Aquaculture) with course portfolios is a major achievement. Curricula have been developed and are at different stages of approval by the university machinery and Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU). Development of curricula involved consultations with various stakeholders including relevant industries. This process forged new university-industry linkages that potentially ensure sustainability of the PhD programs after BSU support is finalized due to their demand-driven nature. Further consolidation of BSUII activities will support the university’s efforts to improve collaboration with private and public actors in Tanzania. Anchorage of these curricula in the relevant academic units at SUA ensures institutional ownership and sustainability.
Sixteen courses have been jointly designed, piloted and evaluated by SUA and Danish partners. This joint venture gave room to cross-fertilization of expertise in specific scientific areas. Capacity of SUA researchers involved in joint implementation of BSU II activities has been strengthened and SUA staff is now able to take on responsibility for implementation of these courses. Forty SUA staff members have participated in training sessions facilitated jointly by Danish and SUA resource persons and improved pedagogical skills which will be tested when courses are repeated. Deliberate efforts were made to ensure that at least 50% of participants in the different courses were female.
Organization of research is being consolidated through the on-going research group formation and development of joint research proposals. A number of activities such as training of ten SUA staff on how to establish, manage and sustain research groups within universities were implemented in collaboration with the Danish Partners. The experience gained creates an enabling environment for collaborative research capacity building and research-based teaching: Research-based teaching as opposed to textbook facts teaching has been included in course development activities, and thirteen pilot projects will be finalized by the end of the BSUII project period. SUA staff has also established/subscribed to different national and regional networks as platforms for collaboration in specific research frontiers and information sharing. 2
Research infrastructure and management at SUA have been improved through the support of BSU II. Notably, the aquaculture laboratory was equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for fat analysis. Administrative procedures have been analyzed; the SUA management has endorsed the suggested changes and the Finance Department at SUA is being equipped with an electronic document management system (EDMS). Therefore, BSUII has prepared the ground for smooth implementation of activities geared toward institutional capacity building.
However, new partnerships take time to build and collaborative academic partnerships are no exception. Hence, within the BSUII time frame, the two-year period only allowed for the programs to be developed, individual courses to be piloted and SUA trainers to be trained. Other challenges faced – and the lessons learned from these – can be summarized as follows:
- Sufficient time is required for consultation with stakeholders, development of course contents and validation, processing curricula through university committees and the Tanzania Commission for Universities, and piloting of selected courses before enrollment of students.
- Continuity and sustainability of SUA’s institutional capacity requires internalization of knowledge through staff training with much hands-on practice.
- Considerable effort has to be devoted to develop awareness among potential ‘recruitment sources’ for the new post-graduate programs, i.e. government ministries, NGOs, private sector companies and other universities.
- Procurement of materials and services is guided by general government and/or university procedures and regulations that must be adhered to. Following such procedures in some cases resulted in inevitable delays in the implementation of activities.
- Approval of new curricula at SUA is guided by university and TCU procedures and regulations that must be adhered to. The approval process involves several committees over which BSU II has no full control in terms of timing. Following such procedures in some cases resulted into inevitable delays in the launching of proposed programs. This challenge was partly mitigated by close follow up with the responsible offices and ensuring paperwork is fast tracked.
- Capacity building in specific scientific areas was skewed towards training rather than research and outreach. This skewedness limits academic outputs in terms of scientific results, publications and outreach. To maintain motivation of researchers involved in the implementation of BSU initiative, support needs to include collaborative research activities that will incorporate outreach and research-based training.
Despite the above challenges, the partnership has had a strong focus on strengthening SUA’s capacity to deliver quality research and PhD education in certain scientific thematic areas (agricultural value chains, agro-ecology and aquaculture) and to improve University-wide administrative services and research facilities that support research and training. BSU II coordination has been efficiently managed through thematic area meetings, quarterly progress review meetings and joint partnership review meetings. Support from the Danish side has been sufficiently focused, the number of Danes and Danish institutes involved have been adequate and will not be expanded in the next phase. The Partnership is seeking continued support from DANIDA to consolidate achievements made in BSUII. The new strategic orientation is outlined in the next section.