3 September 2012

African Science Initiative, RISE, Likely to Expand

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
John Mwero, a RISE award recipient, is now a professor of engineering at the University of Nairobi.

Kampala — An initiative to train science lecturers and boost collaboration among researchers at African universities is likely to be renewed and expanded next year.

The final installment of a US$5 million grant for the period 2011-2013 for the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), launched in 2008, will be provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, United States, in March next year.

But a third phase, from 2014 to 2016 - to focus on building partnerships for expansion and increasing the visibility of academic networks and their activities - is now likely to take place.

RISE plans an expansion into Francophone Africa, and possibly North Africa, according to Lori Mulcare, a RISE administrator based at the Science Initiative Group, the US science institute coordinating the initiative alongside African partners.

"The original competition [for RISE grants] in 2007 was open to universities in research institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa but, because of the linguistic limitations of our small secretariat, only English-language proposals were accepted and, as a result, very few proposals came from non-Anglophone countries," she told SciDev.Net.

RISE is yet to secure funding for the expansion, but it has formed a partnership with the African University of Science and Technology in Nigeria to host an African-based co-secretariat and add multilingual capacity as needed.

RISE works with PhD and MSc-level scientists and engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa, through university-based research and training networks, in disciplines such as biochemistry, environmental science and pharmacology. Its main purpose is to train new faculty members to teach in African universities, and to upgrade current faculty qualifications.

Five academic networks, including the African Materials Science and Engineering Network (AMSEN) and the Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative, each received US$800,000 for the 2011-2013 phase.

Mulcare told SciDev.Net that the grant money mainly covers fees, bursaries, travel between network sites, student conferences and purchasing educational equipment.

"RISE's primary goal is to use the network structure to provide comprehensive research and training for master's and PhD students in science and engineering disciplines," said Mulcare. "RISE graduates are well prepared to contribute to and strengthen universities in their home countries or regions, as teachers, mentors and researchers," she added.

Mulcare said RISE is currently supporting 63 master's and 67 doctoral students, of whom around a third are women.

Patrick Okori, dean of the school of agricultural sciences at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, said the initiative could boost the number of African scientists working on the continent.

"Most of our scientists have gone to work outside the continent so we need a replacement for them," Okori said. "We will need students with analytical capacities and high level skills to drive new innovations and research, which can lead to the development of our continent."

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