A Call for a Conference for Research Excellence in Ethiopia

How to facilitate local, South-to-South, and North-to-South collaboration for quality education and research

By Board Members of the Network for Ethiopian Universities Research Excellence (NEURE) and Network of Ethiopian Scholars (www.sarchi.org)

Preliminary Conference Date: January 27-28, 2022

The Conference will be held virtually

The Link will be sent to all who confirm to join the Conference for Building Research Excellence in all Ethiopian Universities.

  1. Background

The EU-AU summit will be held on the 17-18 of February 2022. The EU-AU inter- continental partnership aims to facilitate the realisation of UN’s 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. One aspect of the sustainable goal is investing in people, education, science, technology, and skills development. Both AU and EU ministers acknowledge the need for skills development and equitable quality education that targets the needs of African current and future labour market needs. The ministers also acknowledge research and innovation will help substantially improve the quality of education, sustainable socio-economic development, and boost societal resilience against crises. 

The 1st AU-EU research and innovation initiative is making successful progress. The AU-EU research and innovation partnerships are supporting agriculture, food security, sustainable energy, climate and health research and innovation in Africa. The upcoming EU-AU innovation agenda for the next EU-AU summit is a follow-up of that process. The results of the current initiatives are reflected on the “Africa Initiative” launched on 17th of June 2021, as part of the first Horizon Europe Work Programme. Since the start of this initiative 16 calls have been processed, 12 calls are currently open, and 10 calls are forthcoming. The new rounds of calls will reflect the results of the upcoming EU-AU summit. Many universities and research centres in Ethiopia are not (sufficiently) aware of the opportunities the EU Horizon program offers them. That is probably because they did not participate in the earlier processes that led to the current program and have thus little insight into how they can participate in it. Making the necessary preparation before the summit and participating in the upcoming AU-EU continent partnership summit is very essential for Ethiopian universities and research organisations. Ethiopians were largely absent in such processes in the past; they should now strive to be part of the discussion that shapes the future of the AU-EU common research agenda.

Though the choice of the date for the conference is geared towards the AU-EU summit, there are other essential elements closely related to collaboration with Europe. The opportunities for participating in research projects is not only limited by the lack of facilities, but also by several other factors. There is a general lack of skills and support in (co-)writing successful grant applications. It would be good if Ethiopian universities strengthen connections with potential partners in Europe and elsewhere; and identify researchers that can liaison the collaboration. Stronger coordination and collaboration among the Ethiopian universities on project acquisition, instead of competition, will enhance research. There may be several other challenges that can better be addressed in a conference and preferably in a conference that is held before the AU-EU summit.

  1. The initiative

On the meeting held on the 16th of December 2021, members of Ethiopian and partner research communities have made the following observations on the need to improve research excellence in Ethiopia by facilitating or improving:

  • research outputs of Ethiopian universities, 
  • inter-university research collaborations in Ethiopia 
  • international collaborations, both south-to-south and north-to-south collaborations 
  • claiming its say at AU-EU research collaboration mechanisms 

During the meeting following initiatives were discussed among the meeting participants: 

  • exploring collaboration with universities and research facilities in the free state of Bavaria, which Bayfor has the task to promote 
  • collaboration with Dutch universities assisted by participants from Wageningen and Leiden universities 
  • elaborating the EU horizon program to representatives of Ethiopian universities and researchers, and 
  • Identify the collaboration areas both on sectoral basis (agriculture, food, processing, etc.), and on the basis of desired impacts (job creation, entrepreneurship, etc.)

The meeting resulted in concrete outputs, which include: 

  • plan a conference in January 2022, in which representatives of most of the major universities in Ethiopia (incl. key researchers), European partners such as Bayfor and ISI will participate,
  • discuss during the conference how to facilitate the collaboration of Ethiopian research institutes among themselves, among European and other partners (such as Bayfor, ISI, Wageningen University and Leiden University) 
  • discuss on how to claim a say in the AU-EU summit and understand how that process works 
  • identify collaboration areas both on sectoral basis (agriculture, food, processing, etc.), and on desired impacts (job creation, entrepreneurship, etc.),
  • identify best practice to do collaborative research with different stakeholders, and 
  • discuss on how to develop university, industry, community, and government networks to help Ethiopian universities engage in problem-solving oriented research and learning
  1. The AU-EU summit
    1. The talking points

In the forthcoming AU-EU continental summit it is expected that the focus will be on the contribution of science to policy formulation. The priorities and challenges identified in the past multi-lateral meetings at the level of UN (SDGs), the G20 and COP26 (climate change and energy transition, climate finance, fairer international tax system, COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccines/pandemic prevention) will be important in the AU-EU summit. 

The results of the discussion at the AU-EU summit will be reflected in the policy decisions on international research collaboration. These decisions will concretely become visible in the substantial funding that will be made available through the Horizon Europe and the NDICI programs. Horizon Europe is research funding program and NDICI is a development program of EU that covers Africa.

Leading up to the summit, there are several talking points that could be relevant to Ethiopia to various degrees. The focus on building resilient education partnership; research partnerships; the sustainable development goals (including the goal of leaving no one behind); the global challenges of pandemics and climate change; (female) entrepreneurship; sustainable agricultural development; smart technologies (such as microprocessors and radio astronomy); public health including the manufacture vaccines in Africa; green transition; promoting innovation, technical and vocational skills and job creation; and digitalization including big data, AI and machine learning, are the points addressed. 

  1. Ethiopia’s priorities

Ethiopian ministries and universities are encouraged to formulate their priority areas and push them through the AU-EU summit outcomes.

For the discussion purposes, we formulate Ethiopia’s priorities in research excellence and impact (including resilience in education) along two dimensions. The first is the economic sectors such as agriculture, food, processing, etc (see the ISIC list of economic sectors for a more extensive list). The second is the desired socio-economic impacts such as job creation, entrepreneurship, etc (the UN SDG goals, G20 and COP26 provide a more extensive list). Though the widely mentioned economic sectors (such as health) and impacts (such as leaving no one behind) are essential focus areas, Ethiopian partners should identify their priority list that should be considered in the AU-EU agenda which Ethiopia wish to co-own and co-create.

The Europe specific Africa Initiative has gathered 36 topics that led (or will lead to) specific calls for proposals. Ethiopian priorities may not be reflected in those topics. 

Ethiopia has, for instance, a major plan for agriculture-led economic transformation. This transformation targets increased per capita income and managed urbanization. Agricultural growth is seen as a key driver for economic transition and development. Ethiopia faces major challenges in its security, peace and in diplomacy, areas which are also of interest for other African countries but not reflected in the main talking points. Ensuring prominent technical and vocational skills and building a robust and regulatory ecosystem is part of the focus areas and the Ethiopians partners could help shape these areas. The importance of the skills agenda that skill sets that can empower a growing population and can be repurposed the needs at hand is a common issue for Ethiopia and the entire African continent.

  1. Preliminary panel themes for the conference 

Addressing the issues of research excellence, collaborating bottlenecks, and encouraging Ethiopian universities to take leadership requires bringing the leaders of the research communities in Ethiopia and their partner organizations in Europe and elsewhere together in a conference to discuss the issues and get to know each other and plan concrete actions.

The conference aims to achieve the following goals:

  1. Invite Ethiopian government representatives and university presidents to present the state of the current international collaboration and how they establish their international collaborations.  
  2. Invite speakers from the EU Horizon program or associated organizations to present possible EU-AU collaboration possibilities and how Ethiopian universities can benefit from them.
  3. Invite key researchers from Ethiopia to present on key research areas, how collaboration can be encouraged, and how unhelpful competitions can be avoided.
  4. Invite speakers from European research institutions and those who represent regional initiatives to present their potential collaboration offerings and collaboration avenues. 
  5. Promoting open the Ethiopian higher education, research, and knowledge area. 
  6. Building on the existing university research programs, higher education and knowledge capacity of research chairs, centers of excellence, flagships, and niche area developments.
  7. Fostering the conditions that facilitate the creation of innovative curricula, mobility of staff, mobility of students, and trainings by opening the free movement of knowledge, research, and higher education among all Ethiopian universities.
  8. Promoting the idea of “do research with actions, and take actions with research”, and rate their achievement level with Research Excellence Framework in order to make Ethiopian universities world class research institutions. 
  9. Making and enable the Ethiopian future with education, research, knowledge, imagination, creativity, invention, entrepreneurship, and innovation by focusing on problem, project, work and action based and integrated learning, outcome, output and impact.
  10. Promoting a Knowledge Exchange Framework Rating scheme for Ethiopian universities in order to recognize excellent research and knowledge output with research awards and rewards; encourage collaborative researchers to achieve higher ratings in the Knowledge Exchange Framework.
  11. Promote indigenous knowledge inclusion to sustain research excellence in all Ethiopian universities by valuing the rich Ethiopian  knowledge heritage.
  12. Designing research excellence to enhance innovative entrepreneurial skills by linking universities with industry and communities, to facilitate the emergence of high performing and transformative institutions with R & D, technologies, and incentives to create a research and talent infrastructure.

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