Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Early Experiences in Engagements around the AURA Programme

Strathmore University, a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), accepted an invitation to participate in their Structured Training for African Researchers (STARS)programme. This took place in August 2015 when Strathmore was already in advanced engagements with the Consortium to implement AURA programme.

Structured Training for African Researchers (STARS) programme

The STARS project is an online professional skills course implemented collaboratively with African universities to develop and refine professional development for academic staff early in their careers. The project aims to institutionalize and embed early career support and build the skills and confidence of early career academics. The resources in the programme are collaboratively developed and are openly licensed under a creative commons license so that universities can adapt and embed the material within their own professional development offerings.

The programme was designed in a three year cycle. The first year involved the design of online content for training early career researchers. The second year involved piloting the online course in twelve universities. The third year involved implementation of the course with additional universities. This is the point at which Strathmore joined into the programme.

Similarities and differences between STARS and AURA programmes

The major similarities are that both programmes are focused on research capacity building among a more or less similar target group. The key differences are that STARS is already at an advanced stage of implementation while the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme is still in its first year. The key distinction in design and outcome between the two programmes is evident in the implementation.

At the point of recruitment, faculty were presented with details concerning the objectives and the implementation format of the two programmes. It appeared that the majority of the young scholars and early career researchers opted into the STARS programme, partly due to the perception that the amount of commitment was shorter and less intense than the AURA. However, early feedback shows that those in the AURA are making significant and demonstrable transformation in their research undertakings.

This experience highlights the importance of taking a strategic institutional view and developing a strong implementing capacity when taking on board similar programmes to avoid failure or collapse.
This experience provides an opportunity to learn and to better scrutinise future engagements against institutional capacity and goals

Engaging in both AURA and STARS provided Strathmore with an opportunity to explore how to position both programmes in the context of institutional goals.  We also had an opportunity to provide staff with a choice to enrol in either programme. The model of co-creation in the AURA Programme required creativity on the part of the champions in order to persuade staff to sign up for AURA especially because the STARS programme presented a perception of lighter work load commitment as compared to the AURA programme. 

Final reflections

Whilst it may appear that competition between the two programmes could pose challenges in maximising the benefits, this was not the view we took at Strathmore. Since there is an intended end in both programmes to empower the institutions involved to deliver and implement internally driven and sustainable capacity building programmes that will bring research outputs to a new level, having the two programmes provides our institution with an opportunity to complement the lessons learned from both programmes. Furthermore, Strathmore has taken an active step to harmonise the benefits by concentrating the programme management under a collaborative approach between the Research and Teaching departments to avoid scattering and duplicating efforts.  This would be a key recommendation for other institutions that when an institution is involved in two programmes that are addressing similar areas, or include synergies, then it is very important that the programme management is shared collaboratively between departments in order to avoid a silo mentality, to ensure that the programmes complement each other, and to prevent duplication.   

Stephen Ng’ang’a and Cavin Opiyo are based at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya.

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