The Future of UK-Africa Collaboration in Humanities and Social Science Research

By Furniss, Graham | African Research & Documentation, April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Future of UK-Africa Collaboration in Humanities and Social Science Research


Furniss, Graham, African Research & Documentation


Presidential Address to African Studies Association of the UK, 11 September 2006

A retiring Presidential address provides the opportunity for some personal reflections on the issues and concerns that have preoccupied the Association in the immediate two-year period. Presidential addresses that I have had the opportunity to hear over the last decade have ranged from the chronicling of decline in African Studies in UK universities to analysing of the trends in research across the range of disciplines represented in the Association. The more limited remit for this discussion today is one which I presented to the Council on taking office as an issue that I would wish to pursue during my Presidency of the Association, namely the broader question of collaboration between the UK academic community and scholars in African universities in the pursuit of research, whatever the topic or discipline addressed; and the more detailed practical issues of how such collaboration does and does not work, the constraints and hindrances that get in the way, as well as the best mechanisms for making such collaboration succeed. The issue was, it seemed to me, topical and pressing in view of the fact that international agencies - the World Bank, NEPAD, the Africa Commission, among others, were rebalancing the priorities relating to education in Africa to move away from a seemingly exclusive emphasis upon primary education development to a recognition of the importance of secondary, and most importantly from our point of view, higher education in Africa. The Association of Commonwealth Universities joint report with the Association of African Universities entitled Renewing the African University set out an agenda that has begun to see endorsement and investment from national and international funders. For those of us who have witnessed the decline of certain African universities over twenty years (and 1 speak as one who is most familiar with Nigerian universities), the reversal of policy was heartily to be welcomed.

It was important first to recognise, however, that any hope within the Association that there would be major reinvestment in African Studies in the UK was not going to be met through these initiatives. The investment was going to be, quite properly, in buildings, facilities, staff development, teaching and research in African universities, not in UK universities. Nevertheless, some proportion of the effort of the next decade would, hopefully, involve putting in place mechanisms for the support and development of cooperation in research and teaching both between African universities themselves but also with universities elsewhere, the UK included. It was this matter that the Association has a direct interest in.

From the UK Africanist point of view what was the tangible evidence that some new effort would be going into reinforcing collaborative relationships between UK academics and their counterparts in Africa? Rhetoric is one thing, reality can, of course, be quite different. There are a variety of measures that have been operating for some considerable time. Inter-institutional agreements bring postgraduate students to UK universities and allow for visits by UK academics to African universities. Fellowship schemes bring African scholars for periods between 3 months and a year to UK Centres of African Studies, Commonwealth Scholarships bring younger staff to UK universities for doctorates and more established staff for research and development visits.

Signs of expansion

But there are a number of new initiatives that seem to presage the growth that is being talked about. A year or two ago it seemed that the British Council Links Scheme was about to bite the dust following a review commissioned by the Department for International Development. But contrary to rumour and perhaps as a signal of the new direction, the scheme has re-emerged as an England-Africa Partnership scheme (EAP) with some £3 million behind it and invitations to bid for money are out at the moment.

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