International Women’s Day on 8 March saw the signing of the new University of Cape Town–University of Bristol (UCT–UoB) Professorship and Fellowship Programme. The shared academic exchange and collaboration will advance Africa’s place in global knowledge production to benefit the continent and international community.
UoB Vice-Chancellor Professor Evelyn Welch announced the joint programme during her Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture, hosted by UCT on 7 March. It was signed by Professor Welch and UCT’s then-acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Sue Harrison.
A call for applications for the UCT–UoB Professorship and Fellowship Programme will follow shortly from the Research Office.
The two-stranded programme aims to change the extractive, unequal way collaborative research is done between the Global North and the Global South, specifically with Africa.
“It builds on UCT’s long and rich history of collaborating with a variety of partners in the educational, social and government spheres, nationally and internationally,” Professor Harrison said at the signing.
“It is a great privilege to work with Bristol as a university in the north that’s so committed to the importance of African-led research.”
The new programme will embed the benefits of collaborative research.
“It is a great privilege to work with Bristol as a university in the north that’s so committed to the importance of African-led research, to serve both Africa and the globe.”
Harrison added, “It stems from a common concern for the development of our fellow humans, not just to eke out a living but to thrive.”
Harrison and Welch thanked UCT’s Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and UoB’s Professor Hugh Brady for laying the relationship’s solid foundation.
The first strand of the programme is the UCT–UoB Professorship Programme. This will see each partner university award a professorship to three researchers for a duration of 12 months over three years. Each researcher may spend up to six months a year at the partner university.
Participating professors will work within one of three themes jointly identified by the universities.
The first is “Hidden histories”, which will encourage researchers to explore the production of critical histories that make “visible the often invisible and challenge the historical narratives of the powerful”.
Second is “Climate change impacts and opportunities for health”. Here the focus will be on climate change’s impacts on health and identifying solutions to reduce these.
Third is “Environmental and social sustainability”, which will explore a broad range of fields where UCT and UoB have complementary strengths. These are in poverty and inequality, educational access, energy use and conservation, wastewater and water quality, as well as biodiversity and natural resources.
The initiative’s second strand is the UCT–UoB Fellowship Programme. This will support early- to mid-career researchers to specifically build their international experience. Three researchers from each university will spend a maximum of three months a year, over a period of two years, at the partner institution.
Beyond ‘equitable partnerships’ rhetoric
The participating professors and fellows will be expected to co-publish and engage in joint activities such as lecturing. It’s envisaged that over time this will lead to joint supervision of postgraduate researchers and joint grant applications, Harrison added in a communiqué released to the UCT community on 9 March.
“The aim is to produce a guide on collaborations between Africa and the Global North.”
The UoB had stood out as an institution that has much in common with UCT, said Harrison.
“A critical element of this initiative is how the two institutions will work together. The aim is to produce a guide on collaborations between Africa and the Global North. This will reflect the spirit and practice of the Charter spearheaded by the Perivoli African Research Centre, based at the UoB.”
This Charter will go beyond the rhetoric of equitable partnerships and lead to a systemic shift, one that will enable Africa to take its rightful place in global knowledge production, Harrison added.
“The opportunities embedded in this initiative will enrich the participants, strengthen the partnership between our two institutions and enable the birth of exciting new research projects as well as the continuance and growth of existing ones.”
The development also highlights a set of common strategic values between the two universities, underpinned by a commitment to social justice.
“We are really excited to launch two new ways to bring those values into action,” said Harrison.
The initiative builds on a long-standing partnership between UCT and UoB and stems from their common membership of the Worldwide Universities Network Global Africa Group.
This bilateral relationship launched the Research Beyond Borders initiative in July 2019. The cohort of eight cotutelle PhD researchers work between the two universities in the fields of public health and poverty.
It was also manifest in UoB’s awarding an honorary doctorate to Professor Phakeng in 2019 and in naming her UoB’s first Bristol Illustrious Visiting Professor in 2021.
“It’s really good to share experiences and knowledge with colleagues from another part of the world to realise how many similarities we have, where our differences really make us richer – and how much we have in common.”
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