In recent years, South African and African universities have identified the advancement of doctoral scholarship as a crucial element in developing higher education and growing research production on the continent. For the past decade, the African Doctoral Academy (ADA) at Stellenbosch University (SU) has been doing its bit in this regard, coordinating and strengthening doctoral education at SU and across Africa.
Since its launch in 2009, the ADA has offered high-impact capacity development to more than 4 500 current and prospective African doctoral candidates and their supervisors through its annual summer and winter schools. “The ADA forms part of the Africa Centre for Scholarship (ACS) at SU International, and is instrumental in the ACS's mission to promote and develop scholars and scholarship from SU and the rest of Africa," explains Corina du Toit, ADA programme manager.
“Our two-week doctoral schools take place annually in summer (January) and again in winter (June–July). These events offer quality research and methodology training as well as options with regard to academic preparedness and career development to current and prospective African doctoral candidates, their supervisors and other researchers." The majority of delegates are from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. Participants represent the disciplines of arts and social sciences, economic and management sciences, agricultural sciences, and medicine and health sciences.
Besides hosting the two doctoral schools at SU each year, the ADA also supports the new Joint Schools in Africa programme at universities elsewhere on the continent. These include the University of Ghana, Makerere University (Uganda), Strathmore University (Kenya), Ardhi University (Tanzania), Chancellor's College (Malawi) and the University of Namibia. “SU has established bilateral and multilateral relationships with many of Africa's leading institutions and academic networks. Offering our ADA workshops to these partners means we support knowledge production by increasing the number and quality of doctoral graduates on the continent. At the same time, it puts SU in a position to consolidate and expand its African networks," says Du Toit.
This year, the ADA will be hosting its annual winter doctoral school at SU from 27 June to 12 July. “As always, there will be a firm focus on PhD preparation, introductory and advanced courses in research methods, academic writing skills, the use of qualitative and quantitative tools, publishing articles, and preparing for an academic career, including training in doctoral supervision," she says. “Most of these courses take place over one week. However, we have recently also introduced a few one-day courses on subjects such as confident public speaking, grant writing and project management principles." According to Du Toit, class sizes are kept small to allow for optimal interaction between delegates and presenters. “All the presenters are experts in their respective fields and hail from SU as well as universities in the United States, Belgium, Ireland and Germany, to name only a few."
And judging by the overwhelmingly positive response from ADA doctoral school delegates over the years, this year's winter school cohort have a lot to look forward to. “The ADA fills a critical need. It empowers people with solid research skills, which will be very beneficial for knowledge production on the African continent going forward," said Jacob Igba, a PhD student from Nigeria, after attending the 2017 ADA winter school. “I made wonderful friends from all over Africa," said Mpala Pilula, a PhD student from Zambia, after the 2017 summer school. “The high quality of the courses and presenters really stood out for me – it was truly a world-class experience, and a great way to launch a PhD." Tiffany Banda, a doctoral student from Malawi, had this to say following the 2018 ADA winter school: “It exposed me to the knowledge, skills and tools that will enable me to work through my doctoral studies in a clearer and more focused way. The courses were taught by some of the most brilliant minds I had ever encountered as an academic. I left inspired, challenged and determined that I too can make a difference, however small, among the people I encounter in my sphere of influence."
To celebrate their tenth birthday, the ADA will be joining SU International's Africa Week festivities on 20 May. In addition, they will be hosting a keynote session chaired by Prof Sarah Howie (ACS director) and presented by Prof Jonathan Jansen (distinguished professor at SU's Faculty of Education) during the upcoming winter school. “The talk, which is scheduled for 1 July, will explore the quality of scholarship at doctoral level as well as the role of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in scholarship development in South Africa," Du Toit concludes.