Cambridge is one of the world’s leading universities in its engagement with, and support for, African research. This month we begin a month-long focus on some of these partnerships, introduced here by Professor Eilís Ferran, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations.

Being a global university means understanding that what we do at home can positively affect lives, and livelihoods, on the far side of the world

Eilís Ferran

Collaboration with Africa is embedded in the University of Cambridge’s DNA. I am paraphrasing our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, but there is no better way to describe the scale and vitality of Cambridge’s partnership with the continent. This month, here and in our research magazine, we celebrate some of these partnerships that have made Cambridge one of the world’s leading universities for engaging with and supporting African research. 

Many of our researchers have long worked with African colleagues on issues that matter not just to the continent but to the world. Our Centre of African Studies, a hub for Africa-based scholarship, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. And our Cambridge-Africa Programme provides a framework that makes the mentorship and personal commitment of our researchers available to African researchers working in Africa on African priorities.

Africa is a region of rapid economic, demographic and population growth, with unresolved challenges in areas such as health, education, governance, poverty and nutrition. It has excellent researchers, but too few to train and mentor the millions it needs to accelerate its progress. It has good universities but many are too under-resourced to be internationally competitive. This is where global, research-driven universities across the world can help.

Engagement through research partnership and capacity building is embodied in the Cambridge-Africa Programme. Today, the Programme supports African researchers in 58 institutions in 26 African countries; its various schemes link PhD, postdoctoral and group leaders with a network of over 200 Cambridge-based researchers working in over 30 fields of research across the University and affiliated institutions.

And in a scheme that is unique to Cambridge among African Studies centres in the UK, the Centre of African Studies hosts each year visiting research fellows from Africa, who spend six months in Cambridge unencumbered by duties in their home institutions. Collaboration with research institutes and individual researchers in Africa has long been key to the Centre’s work.

Other partnerships across the University, which include business, executive education, social entrepreneurship and technology transfer, take our engagement with Africa to 36 countries, and the list continues to expand.

Interactions with Africa enrich the intellectual and cultural environment of our academics and students, helping us to be a truly global university. Being a global university means understanding that what we do at home can positively affect lives, and livelihoods, on the far side of the world. It requires us all to take full responsibility for that knowledge – and to act on it, together.

It means knowing, for instance, that collaboration between viral experts in Cambridge and plant scientists in Africa can help make crops in Ghana more resilient. It means understanding that the knowledge developed by clinicians in a Ugandan maternity ward supported by Cambridge researchers can save lives everywhere.

And it means recognising that evidence collected through collaborations with NGOs, peacebuilders and research institutes working on the ground can make a difference in areas as diverse as education, post-conflict resolution and nutrition.

Last year, I was invited to attend a meeting of the International Alliance of Research Universities at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The theme of the meeting was ‘Global transformation’. My participation prompted me to wonder: what if every one of the world’s leading research universities could do something similar to the Cambridge-Africa Programme? Imagine the effect that the commitment, and the concerted efforts, of the world’s top research-intensive institutions might have on Africa’s capacity to produce knowledge. That would be global transformation indeed.

Professor Eilís Ferran is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations.

To keep up to date with the latest stories about Cambridge’s engagement with Africa, follow #CamAfrica on Twitter.

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