Academics from across sub-Saharan Africa gathered in Cambridge this week to share knowledge and attend talks on how to build greater capacity in their research support offices.

That’s the core value for universities: do research that will impact our people and our communities

William Alpha, University of Makeni, Sierra Leone

University administrators from Uganda, Namibia, Ghana, Botswana and Sierre Leone took part in collaborative workshops, heard from speakers such as University of Cambridge Pro-Vice-Chancellor Eilis Ferran on the importance of administration to researchers and pored over the best practices for contracts, due diligence, audits, impact statements and applications.

The GCRF Africa Initiative’s Capacity Building 2019 programme provided a forum for African university research office administrators to share their experiences, hear from the experiences of the Cambridge Research Office and develop their own unique solutions to the challenges of building capacity in the administration of grants and research in Africa.

“The purpose of the programme is to help universities in the development of their research management support structures in the grants life-cycle,” said programme coordinator Debbie West-Lewis from the Cambridge Research Office.

Participants said the programme was as valuable for its insights into best practice at a global university as it was for discovering the shared problems and solutions at institutions across the African continent.

“It’s given us an opportunity to bounce ideas off each other and share ideas that will be quite useful for us as an institution to better serve our academics,” said Mercy Mwaura, Director of the Office of International Relations and Projects at the University of Makeni in Sierra Leone.

Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation Knowledge Commons and Research Manager Kgomotso Radijeng said it was refreshing to hear that even ancient universities with global reputations such as Cambridge also have their challenges.

“They’ve been able to share with us how they resolve their challenges,” she said. “So we shouldn’t despair.”

 William Alpha from University of Makeni in Sierre Leone said that the programme deepened his belief in capacity building as a key cornerstone to driving better research and helping Africa’s universities make a real difference at home.

“That’s the core value for universities: do research that will impact our people and our communities,” he said.

One of the key takeaways all of the group agreed on was the newly formed network of support they’ve created for themselves with colleagues from the programme.

They have all joined up in a new WhatsApp group.

“Now we have a network and you know when you have a problem you can call up and say I’m struggling with this,” Radijeng said.

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