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26 April 2019
DRUSSA Universities Leadership Seminar Print
Thursday, 21 May 2015 17:03

DRUSSA is well served by our network of champions, leaders and implementation teams at partner universities. Ultimately, though, change depends on the support of Vice-Chancellor and senior colleagues at institutional level. Their time and attention is precious.

That’s why it was excellent to see a good number of the DRUSSA university Vice-Chancellors attending our Leadership Seminar in Johannesburg last week. Good, too, to see their engagement with discussions and genuine desire to see their institutions build on progress to date.

There were several examples of change. New posts and structures have been created, backed up by strategy and policy documents – some being drafted, some already in place. All too, were able to give examples of how university research is actually getting into use. The case study that we heard from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius provided cited several such projects that have materially improved the lives of some poor communities.

The future

As the project nears its last year, attention naturally turned to the issue of sustainability. Several delegates were keen to ensure that the progress made over the last three years could be sustained. They rightly pointed out that the drive towards research uptake should not be seen in tidy, neat, project timelines. As I have often recognised before, this project did not invent the idea of getting research into use – although it has certainly been influential in articulating that need. Equally, the need to support universities in their efforts will not end with the project. We recognised right from the start that this is part of a continuing process.

There are good reasons to be confident that this process will continue post-DRUSSA. Importantly, our project has not directly funded the new posts and structures that have been put into place. DRUSSA has supported universities to benchmark against each others’ capacity, to identify needs, and has trained key staff.  However the resources being used in day-to-day operations are those of the universities themselves. That should make the challenge of sustainability easier to meet.

University Research Uptake Practitioners Capacity

There were specific concerns, though. One Vice-Chancellor pointed out that, although high level training was critical, training small numbers of key people left universities vulnerable to these moving on to other positions – for which they could be actively recruited. A complementary approach, he suggested, would be the development of lower level courses that could be accessed more widely by the increased number of staff working in the field. This seemed to me an excellent thought – and one that we will need to build on in our final year.

SARIMA/ACU Conference

Meeting for a single day obviously has its limitations. For this reason, it was great to see so many of the Vice-Chancellors stay for the wider three-day conference, hosted by SARIMA and the ACU, on Research and Innovation for Global Challenges.  Attracting some 450 delegates from throughout the world, the conference allowed us to put DRUSSA activities into a broader perspective.  Particularly helpful in this process were the three sessions organised jointly between DRUSSA and the European CAAST-NET programme, which looks as science policy from the perspective of policy makers and governments throughout Africa.

The conference week surpassed our initial objective of demonstrating that progress is being made in embedding research uptake management in university operations, and ensuring that the Vice-Chancellors are supportive.  Those attending were certainly that – but were also concerned to progress the agenda further.  We need to make sure that universities are supported in this work – both during the final year of the DRUSSA project, and afterwards.

Dr John Kirkland is the Deputy Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and DRUSSA project Leader