The Efficiency and Effectiveness of Science Networks

Moderator: Prof Frans Swanepoel, University of Pretoria

Panelist: Prof John Hearn, University of Sydney

Panelist: Dr Melody Mentz, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development

Panelist: Dr Moses Osiru, RUFORUM

Panelist: Dr Aldo Stroebel, National Research Foundation


Partnerships and networking have become essential arrangements for universities throughout the world to leverage resources for greater impact[1].Strong networks with a clear focus and strategically selected partners offer both tangible and intangible benefits to individual members, and there are several examples of networks worldwide that have succeeded in collaborating to achieve greater outcomes than the institutions alone could achieve.In addition to widening the scope and scale of research problems which can be addressed, networks offer the opportunity to share resources for capacity building, teaching and learning, and serve as a space for international exchange and networking (fundamental to academic success in the 21st century). Global ranking systems place a high priority on the “global reputation”, and membership in prestigious networks is one of the indicators of this – a clear benefit to network membership.

Historically, networks have been established with a range of goals, philosophical ideals and geographical scope. For example, the Russell Group in the United Kingdom brings together 24 leading UK universities with similar ideals and complementary endowments, who are “committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector”.[2] The Worldwide University Network (WUN) draws upon the combined intellectual power and resources of its members to create opportunities in international research and graduate education. It partners with government, international organisations and industry to stretch ambitions and develop the next generation of leaders.[3]

Being connected into global networks is particularly important for African Universities. In 2015, Africa contributed only 1.85% of the global scientific output[4]. The potential for leveraging increased capacity and resources from networks is thus a tangible benefit for institutions in Africa who are seeking to distinguish themselves among the best on the continent, whilst maximising the contribution of their research to solving grand challenges. Networks such as the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) aim to strengthen the capacities of universities to foster innovations responsive to demands of the continent through the training of high quality researchers, the output of impact-oriented research, and the maintenance of collaborative working relations among researchers, citizens, national agricultural research institutions, and governments.[5] Other continental networks, such as AAUN was established in 2012 consisting of 10 Australian and 10 African universities creating opportunities to facilitate and promote collaboration in research and postgraduate education across the priority themes of food security, mining and minerals, public health and education. Significant progress has been demonstrated during the past 5 years both in terms of activities and projects supported, as well ase additional funding leveraged for long term research support[6]. The recently launched African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), develop local research excellence through collaboration, finding solutions to the development problems of Africa and bringing research and academic excellence to the fore throughout the region by developing strong and viable research universities from difference countries with different historical backgrounds. The network is making African researchers and institutions globally competitive while contributing to the generation of knowledge for socio-economic transformation in Africa. ARUA is strengthen African universities through effective capacity-building, which comes from leading institutions working together for the task of increasing significantly their research output.[7]

As Africa’s population continues to rise (predicted to be 25% of the global population by 2050) the inclusion of Africa scientifically on the global stage will be ever more necessary and relevant to continental and international stakeholders. For example, the formation of the Global Africa Group (GAG), WUN builds on the existing expertise and international partnerships amongst the Worldwide Universities Network’s members, in Africa and abroad, to identify sustainable and equitable solutions to critical local, regional and global challenges of relevance to Africa[8].

This context raises questions about the ideal purpose, structure and activities of global university networks in the future. This session uses a comparative approach to draw on the combined insights from elite global and highly successful African networks to offer suggestions on designing networks for impact in the global science arena that not only include African partners, but benefit directly from African membership.


Prof Frans Swanepoel, University of Pretoria

Frans Swanepoel is Professor: Future Africa, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and Visiting Fellow at the Institute for African Development (IAD) at Cornell University, USA. He was the former DVC Research and Innovation at the University of the Western Cape, Director of the African Doctoral Academy at Stellenbosch University, and Dean of Agriculture at the University of Fort Hare. He is an accomplished scientific leader in South Africa and internationally, confirmed by his election during 2010 as a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in 2016 as a Foreign Fellow of the Ugandan National Academy of Science, and his appointment as Senior Fulbright Fellow at Cornell University, during 2008/2009 respectively. He is a former Board Member (two terms) of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa, and serves the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) initiative, based in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2016, Prof Swanepoel was recognised for his significant contributions to capacity development in support of agricultural transformation and development in Africa during the 5th African Higher Education Week, organised by the Regional University Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM, a network of 66 African universities). He has published extensively, and supervised 30 Masters and PhD students to completion. A former NRF-rated scholar, his fields of specialization include African smallholder agriculture, research and innovation management, agricultural education and training, internationalization of higher education, and capacity development.


Dr Melody Mentz, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development

Dr Mentz completed all her degrees cum laude, and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to work and study at the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Institute, Indiana University (Bloomington, IN, USA), which led to the completion of her PhD. She focuses on theory-based mixed-methods evaluation initiatives; and the monitoring and evaluation of research and leadership in the context of development, with an emphasis on gender and agriculture. Dr Mentz has been working as an evaluator in multinational contexts, engaged as a team member at national, pan-African and international levels. In these projects she has strategically participated in the full evaluation process – from conceptualization and design, through to implementation, data collection, analysis and reporting. In addition, she has managed and directed evaluations and reviews as both leader and coordinator. Recently, she was an external member of the evaluation team for the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) programme run in eleven African countries involving more than 600 women, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, based in Nairobi (Kenya). Over the past six years her work with AWARD has focused on developing appropriate theories of change for, and assessing the research performance and leadership capacity strengthening of the women leaders.


Dr Moses Osiru, RUFORUM

Dr Moses Osiru is the Deputy Executive Secretary at RUFORUM Secretariat in Uganda, a position he has held since 2011. He is responsible for providing oversight to the implementation of RUFORUM Secretariat programmes. Dr Osiru’s academic training and work experience is in the field of agriculture; he holds a PhD in Agriculture (Plant Pathology) and MSc (Plant Breeding/ Pathology) from Makerere University. His extensive work experience includes working for the agricultural and higher education sectors in East Africa and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in Malawi and Uganda. He has managed various projects i.e. the European Commission (EC) project for non-state actors in Malawi with CARE-Malawi, McKnight Foundation Projects on Groundnut Breeding and Aflatoxin Management and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Project on Legume Breeding with ICRISAT. Dr Osiru currently serves on various Boards and Steering Committees including the Board of the African Crop Science Society, the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA) and the Swedish Agriculture for Food Security 2030 Initiative, as well as on Editorial Boards of the Journal of Phytology and the Global Journal of Applied Agricultural Research. He is a member of the Steering Group of the African Forum on Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS).


Dr Aldo Stroebel, National Research Foundation

Aldo Stroebel is Executive Director Strategic Partnerships at the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, and Visiting Fellow at the Institute for African Development at Cornell University, USA. He serves as immediate past President of the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (SARIMA), as South Africa’s National Contact Point for the ERC to H2020, on the boards of the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). He is a former member of the Research and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG) of Universities South Africa (USAf). He holds a Ministerial appointment to the National Education and Training Forum for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (NETFAFF). In 2017, he was admitted as a Foreign Fellow of the Ugandan National Academy of Science, and is a founding member of the SA Young Academy of Science (SAYAS). Education credentials: University of Pretoria (BSc- and Hons-degrees); University of Ghent, Belgium (Masters in International Agricultural Development); University of the Free State and Cornell University, USA (PhD); Postdoctoral research at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. He has published widely in smallholder farming systems, and has been acknowledged as a leader in internationalisation of Higher Education, and research and innovation management.


Prof John Hearn, University of Sydney

Prof John Hearn is the Executive Director of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) since 2009 and Chairman of the Australia Africa Universities Network since 2011. He is also a Professor of Physiology in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International). Professor Hearn graduated BSc (Science), MSc (Developmental Biology), DSc (h.c) from the University College Dublin, and PhD (Reproductive Physiology) from the Australian National University (ANU). As a committed international citizen, he has worked extensively in China, India, Thailand, Kenya and Brazil. He has served 6-7 years each as a researcher, teacher and leader of national and international programmes at the Universities of Edinburgh, London UCL, Wisconsin, ANU and Sydney and as a Senior Scientific Adviser to the World Health Organisation and the World Wildlife Fund. A reproductive and developmental physiologist, with 220 research publications and six edited books in human and animal fertility, stem cell biology and biotechnology, his research now is on the science and ethics of stem cell and regenerative medicine, and on reform in international higher education. He holds the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society of London; the Osman-Hill medal of the Primate Society of Great Britain; and the Australian Centenary Medal “for outstanding service to science and to the Australian Government as a scientific adviser”. Currently a member of the steering group of the OECD Bioeconomy 2030 programme and the Board of Sports Knowledge Australia, he was until recently Chairman of the Biotechnology Advisory Council to the Australian Government and of the WHO Asia-Pacific Panel in Reproductive Health Research.

By | 2017-12-01T06:58:34+00:00 October 9th, 2017|