Go back

Agriculture universities rally behind PhD initiative

An African grouping of universities aiming to build capacity in agricultural research has launched a scheme to boost the continent’s lagging PhD production rates.

The scheme was endorsed by the board of trustees of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (Ruforum) in Kigali, Rwanda, in September.

Under the Graduate Training Assistantship, five PhD candidates from each of Ruforum’s 32 member institutions in east, central and southern Africa will be allowed to study at one other member institution, free of charge.

The fee waiver forms the core of the deal, with candidates studying for free with the precondition of teaching at the host university for a set period of time after completing their studies.

This is a way for students to “give back” for the financial assistance they receive from the waived fee, says Adipala Ekwamu, Ruforum’s executive secretary.

“The vice-chancellors recognised the urgency of producing PhDs and did not want to wait any longer [for external support],” he says.

Ekwamu says that ideally candidates would study in one of Ruforum’s six priority areas for PhD training, which include aquaculture, dryland resource management and plant breeding. But universities can also pick their own priorities, he says.

Ruforum’s PhD programmes, which bring students from all over Africa to train at regional hubs, have been designed to combat “inbreeding” in African universities, he says. This is where students spend their entire academic training—from undergraduate to permanent faculty job—at the same institution.

Regional programmes are the only way of truly mobilising capacity in Africa, says Ekwamu. The forum is also inviting new partners. The Kigali meeting welcomed Ruforum’s first South African partner, Stellenbosch University.

The inclusion of Stellenbosch will “add lots of value” to the group, says Ekwamu. He says the group was initially wary of adding a South African partner for fear that many PhD students trained in its networks would go to South Africa and never return home.