|Contemplating the achievements of the DRUSSA Universities|
|Thursday, 18 August 2016 09:59|
John Kirkland, DRUSSA Lead and Deputy Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, reflects on the Programme’s success in supporting Research Uptake capacity at African universities.
To those of us in the DRUSSA team, it hardly seems five years since the project started. For those charged with the responsibility of making the project work in the universities it might seem much longer. A great deal of work has taken place during the period, and some of the university staff have changed positions. At least three of our Champions have gone on to become Vice-Chancellors.
A long term vision
Has DRUSSA been a good investment of time and UKAID support? I’m tempted to follow Chairman Mao, speaking about the French Revolution, in arguing that it is too early to tell. The ultimate product of our efforts is not intended to be confined to better trained staff or new structures, but the raising of living conditions throughout Africa, facilitated by better take up of research findings. This is a long term investment.
Unlike Chairman Mao, our funders will not wait 150 years for their evaluation, so we must seek earlier indications. Our recent, third benchmarking exercise found these in abundance. Change is evident in virtually all of our partner institutions, in a variety of forms. Some report entirely new structures, offices and senior level appointments charged with responsibility for Research Uptake, others report new relationships between key officers, or the universities and their research staff. Most report that responsibility for Research Uptake has been added and incorporated into the jobs of research office administrators and managers. Many have new mechanisms for promoting their research work to more audiences, for example innovations to benefit local industries. Our work to bring together researchers and policy makers – a strand added to the initial project brief – has generated new forms of relationship between the two sectors. All of this is underpinned by staff trained specifically in Research Uptake, through qualifications and learning resources that didn’t exist five years ago.
Building on existing foundations
Not all of this is due to the project. We selected participating universities, competitively, on the basis that they were already working to promote their research more widely and as a result of the project they now have new levels of capacity. The evidence of this can, for example, be seen in their publications on DRUSSA.net. Whatever their motivations, they were not financial. The universities have made generous counter-part contributions and staff time so the total direct project cost – including everything – has reached barely £40,000 per university per year.
Not all the effects of DRUSSA are yet evident. If UKAID care to evaluate 150 (or for that matter five) years hence, we will see more. I hope that the DRUSSA universities’ network will continue to work together and increasingly use regional forums to enable that to happen. For now, I think this cost-effective and collaboratively contributed investment is a great success. Thank you to each person who has devoted thought, energy and time.
Dr John Kirkland is the DRUSSA Lead and Deputy Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities