A capacity-building project linked to Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of AgriSciences and funded by the European Union has paved the way for SU's Centre for Learning Technologies to extend its footprint to Uganda and Kenya through its Division for Telematic Services.
As part of the PASUFONS project, two telematic learning centres were launched at the Makerere University in Uganda and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya. This historic event was celebrated with a live interactive satellite broadcast from Stellenbosch to these centres in Kampala and Nairobi on Wednesday (10 February).
The PASUFONS project is a collaborative project funded by the European Union under the ACP-EU EDULINK II programme. It is coordinated by Prof John Muyonga at Makerere University, Prof Marena Manley at Stellenbosch University and Dr Arnold Onyango at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. The South African Association of Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) and the Regional Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) are associate partners.
The rationale for the PASUFONS project lies with the fact that economies of most countries in Africa are predominantly agro-based. In spite of this, food insecurity and malnutrition are prevalent on the continent. Through providing demanded food and nutrition research and graduates with relevant skills, universities can contribute to the alleviation of food and nutrition insecurity.
The project seeks to: strengthen university food and nutrition sciences training and research in Eastern and Southern Africa; enhance the contribution of university food and nutrition science departments in addressing the contemporary human resource and research needs of the food, nutrition and agriculture sectors; and promote collaboration among participating institutions to foster exchange of information and sharing of training and research resources.
The use of the telematic platform will promote the exchange of knowledge and one of the envisaged activities would be for experts in the field to broadcast lectures to the three venues simultaneously.
To illustrate how this would work, four panellists took part in a live broadcast on Wednesday (10 February) while people watching the live video feed in the different centres could send questions, comments and congratulations via a web form, SMS or Whatsapp to showcase the interactivity of the platform.
The panellists were: Dr Antoinette van der Merwe, Senior Director: Division for Learning and Teaching Enhancement at SU, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching at SU, Prof John Muyonga, PASUFONS project leader and representative of Makerere University and Prof Glaston Kenji from the Department of Food Science and Technology at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Dr Van der Merwe explained that being part of the project was an extremely exciting opportunity for SU as it was the first time that the telematic service ventured into Africa further north than Namibia.
"It has been our dream to expand our services to the rest of Africa but we needed partners. It does not make sense to have a learning centre and a satellite connection without any purpose or content. Therefore, we are thrilled to have this partnership that allows us to expand the footprint of the university as a knowledge partner into Africa and enables collaboration and capacity-building."
Prof Schoonwinkel referred to the PASUFONS project as a true African partnership. "Other projects will hopefully also make use of this platform to enhance collaboration."
He added that it fits in well with SU's vision of being future-focused and innovative.
Prof Muyonga described the launch as a milestone for the PASUFONS project.
"It has been a long journey," he said. One of the major challenges had been getting permission from local broadcast authorities in Uganda and Kenya to set up receiving centres at the respective partner universities.
"I'm happy that we are finally launching this project. PASUFONS has invested in this infrastructure and we want to utilise it, but also share it. The technology makes it easier to share expertise and we encourage other units to make use of this opportunity."
Prof Kenji spoke about the importance of the food science and nutrition field in Africa. He explained that the number of institutions offering courses in food science have increased and that this platform will play a big role in sharing human resource capacity as well as research findings.
"It is a very big innovation and a good strategy to achieve the goals and objectives of PASUFONS," he added.
More information on the PASUFONS project
Stellenbosch University, one of South Africa's leading universities in food science training partnered with Makerere University in Uganda and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya to develop a project aimed at strengthening university training and research in food and nutrition sciences. The project titled Partnerships to strengthen university food and nutrition sciences training and research in Eastern and Southern Africa (PASUFONS) was awarded a grant of Euro 500,000 in November 2013 under the European Union EDULINK II programme. The project is coordinated by Prof John Muyonga at Makerere University, Prof Marena Manley at Stellenbosch University, and Dr Arnold Onyango at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. South African Association of Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) and the Regional Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) are associate partners for the project, with a commitment to facilitate linking the project to its members and supporting the dissemination of project outputs.
PASUFONS seeks to enhance the contribution of university food and nutrition science departments to address contemporary human resource and research needs of the food, nutrition and agriculture sectors. This is in recognition of the discrepancy between job market needs and university training activities. Through this project, the partner universities have been exploring ways of strengthening their capacity to produce graduates with research and practical skills required by the job market. The project also seeks to strengthen collaboration between researchers and the food industry.
The rationale for the PASUFONS project lies with the fact that economies of most countries in Africa are predominantly agro-based. In spite of this, food insecurity and malnutrition are prevalent on the continent. High postharvest losses, low produce quality, and dismal value addition limit Africa's capacity to adequately benefit from food produced through agriculture. Through providing demanded food and nutrition research and graduates with relevant skills, universities can contribute to the alleviation of food and nutrition insecurity. However, acting in isolation, universities on the continent lack the critical research and training human and infrastructural capacity. PASUFONS seeks to promote collaboration among participating institutions and to strengthen the linkage of these institutions with the relevant private and public institutions to foster exchange of information and sharing of training and research resources. This will ensure responsiveness of training and research to stakeholder needs and promote synergies among participating institutions. The project thus aims to address graduate unemployment which is a significant continent wide development problem.
The project also enables capacity development opportunities for academic and technical staff from partner institutions. In cognisance of the human and infrastructural capacity of gaps among partner institutions, PASUFONS provides for staff exchange, joint student supervision and joint research projects.
The challenge of making universities more responsive to the market skills and research needs is an important one. PASUFONS is one of many efforts aimed at addressing this vast challenge. More information about PASUFONS project can be found at www.pasufons.org.
For more information, contact: Prof John Muyonga or Prof Marena Manley
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
More about Stellenbosch University's telematic platform
Stellenbosch University's telematic platform boasts a fully equipped broadcast studio, Uplink and bandwidth on Intelsat 17 combined with web, mobile and videoconferencing technology. It broadcasts to 19 learning centres in South Africa, 370 connected schools, one learning centre in Namibia and now also to the two new centres in Uganda and Kenya. It is used primarily for postgraduate programmes – especially to assist so-called learn-and-earn students who cannot interrupt their careers to study full-time. Programmes in for example nursing, HIV/Aids management in the workplace, public administration and education make use of the platform and now food science can be added to this list. For more information on the telematic platform, see http://www.sun.ac.za/ite.
To set up a learning centre one needs a satellite dish, special free-to-air decoder, data projector and sound system. Participants participate during the live broadcasts by sending questions via SMS, Whatsapp or a web form to the presenter in the studio who is able to read these questions and answer them live.
For more information, contact:
Dr JP Bosman
Head: Centre for Learning Technologies, Stellenbosch University