Friday, 23 September 2016

Final reflections on the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) Programme

What do you feel were the strengths of the AURA programme?

At the onset of the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme, Strathmore University administration was intent on getting a proof of concept on the most effective approach to nurture a critical mass of dynamic research-engaged faculty and students, and what approaches could inculcate a rich research culture that is responsive to the society. In general, the AURA programme did not last long enough for the University to draw on the lessons. However, the AURA programme created the momentum needed to refresh the University’s approach to interventions to improve teaching and research excellence among the staff.

In terms of practical implementation, the novelty of the AURA programme and what was unique included:

  • Co-creation model: The overall design and implementation framework of the programme has elements and flexibilities that give room for the meaningful input from Strathmore. For example, the curriculum and design of the course is shared in advance for input by the Strathmore team. Our suggestions are taken seriously and acted upon. We are consulted frequently and think together on evolving aspects of the programme.
  • Experiential model of facilitation: This has worked very well with the young scholars. They were effectively engaged meaningfully throughout the delivery of face to face interventions.
  • Research Informed Implementation: It has been very helpful to have access to the data from the participants and to try and use these feedbacks in real time to guide programme implementation. This practice is also reflected in the design of the course and is very highly appreciated by the participants.
  • Creative Commons License: This is a great way to promote free access to resources generated during the implementation. It is a great boost to the programme.
  • Strengthened individual research capacities of the staff participants. These include positive results from participating in scholarly conferences, progress in the individual academic research projects by the participants and even in less tangible outputs such as refreshment of theoretical grasp of research methodologies (in AURA Research #1-2 [R1] and [R2] interventions).
  • Strengthened individual research capacities of the Project Coordinators: The demands of the programme, particularly the publishing of reflective blog articles was a great opportunity to improve the skills among the PCs.

How do you feel the AURA programme could have been improved?

  1. Deliberately focus on an outcome driven implementation: The benefits of the programme in refreshing the skill sets of the participants in teaching excellence and research capacity was great. However, it would have been more productive to design the programme purposely to achieve, in a progressive manner, tangible results in teaching and research, for example journal publications, etc. this requires reflection and an extensive multi-level design.
  2. Deliberately involve students as participants: Our experience in the involvement of undergraduate students in the Writer’s podium under the AURA Research Course 4 [R4] was very positive.
  3. The consortium should have comprised at least one university from the South. The role of ITOCA complicated the decision-making processes. In our opinion, it did not bring what we expected it to do. Maybe a leading university on the topic of the project would have been a better option.
  4. Leveraging in on functional linkages: The programme should pursue the possibility of leveraging in more resources from other partners to increase the effectiveness of interventions. For example mentoring of participants could get a shot in the arm from AuthorAID. Participants could also benefit from a competitive small grants programme, or travel grants from other sources, open to young scholars and students.
  5. Deliberately focus on continuity: The programme will come to an end. Although institutionalisation efforts may achieve a certain measure, largely there could be missed opportunities if the programme does not deliberately work on exploring other platforms to continue engaging even on a higher plane to keep the tide and momentum high. This, for example, includes actively exploring more grant opportunities to leverage on the winning aspects of achievement and take them to a new level.
  6. Create more opportunities for participants from implementing institutions to learn from one another: it could probably help to explore the possibility of having participants from the implementing institutions to attend some sessions together. It is critical to explore outcome driven learning opportunities for ALIRT team members from implementing partner institutions from the consortium institutions in specific areas. Explore opportunities for interactions between young scholars in the consortium institutions and implementing institutions could improve growth in personal trajectories of the participants.
  7. Publish and disseminate results of this AURA intervention to wider audiences: There should be a deliberate design in the second year to broadly disseminate outcomes, including to the audiences in the implementing institutions.

What would you like to see from future programmes in this area of work?

The general technical design of the programme is very well thought out. The model at the consortium level accommodates a north-south partnership to deliver the programme. The implementing partners are a mix of public and private academic institutions, at the moment concentrated in eastern Africa. This design has impacted on the programme delivery as follows: administrative and financial management was governed by unclear procedures and demands. This made the life of PCs very frustrating in compliance. Better communication on this would have been helpful in managing expectations on both sides of the engagement.

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