University of Rwanda – Enabling a knowledge based society. A film about the UR-Sweden Programme.

University of Rwanda – Enabling a knowledge based society. A film about the UR-Sweden Programme.

September 12, 2019 4 By Kody Olson


Rwanda, a country in the heart of Africa with an estimated population of 11.5 million people, is known for its green mountainous landscape as the Land of a Thousand hills. A country that has transformed dramatically since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in which more than 1 million people died. A country that is determined to build a better future. Under the visionary leadership of His Excellency Paul Kagame, the President of the Republic of Rwanda, the country is placed among the fastest growing economies with a GDP Growth of nearly 8% annually over the last decade. Rwanda is credited to be the easiest place to start a business in Africa, and is considered to be the continent’s safest country. The country has been fighting poverty fiercely. The proportion of the population living under the poverty line has been declining continuously from almost 60% in 2000 to under 40% in 2014. Vision 2020 is Rwanda’s long-term development programme, which illustrates the country’s ambitious goals for the future. Through Vision 2020 the government aims, in their own words: To achieve this, Rwanda focuses on good governance, the transition to a knowledge-based society and the development of the private sector. Because the country has a young population, strengthening higher education and research in Rwanda is a key pillar to this development process. In Vision 2020 we have to have education for all. Our people need to be educated. Not only numbers also in quality. Quality is also very important. We have ambitious plans in our vision. And it is important of course if we want it to be sustainable it must be carried by our people. Today it is not so obvious to have Master’s degrees and then PhD and then do research. But I hope, for our children, it will be very obvious and very easy if they want to have access to this kind of education in Rwanda. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, is supporting research and higher education in developing countries. In general when Sida supports research we do that because we think that it is fundamental that also developing countries have the capacity to investigate and research their own problems. To define their own problems and to contribute that knowledge into the dialogue and discourse that are being formed at the global level in the research fields. In Rwanda specifically, we also have the fact that Rwanda has very, very high ambitions as a nation. The Vision 2020 positions Rwanda as being a knowledge based economy and knowledge based society, moving from an agrarian society to a knowledge based one. That can simply not be done without higher education and research, and innovation being fundamental parts of that. Sida funds a programme, a huge programme. It is the most significant programme that we have in higher education in Rwanda. It is a programme largely built around capacity development, building the capacity of individuals and the institution. The programme supported at the University of Rwanda is called the UR-Sweden Programme for Research, Higher Education and Institutional Advancement. It is the largest bilateral program currently funded by Sida. The main goal is to build research capacity at the University of Rwanda, abbreviated as the UR. The UR was formed in 2013 through a merger of 14 public institutions of higher education to ensure greater research capacity of international quality. The objectives of the programme have gradually evolved over time. The first phase was mainly to promote research within a university that largely is a teaching university. It was more about putting the research on the map. In the fact it is not just about teaching but it is actually generating new knowledge. Especially that Rwanda has developed its Vision 2020 by then. The second phase, the research is on the map, it is promoted, it is being talked about, now it is the time to increase the research capacity. The second phase has the objective to increase the research capacity and institutional capacity for research management. The current phase, the third phase, has an overall objective to increase the use and production of knowledge of international quality to support the development of Rwanda. The programme for UR is hugely important because the UR as the only public university of Rwanda has a huge mandate for the country not only to serve the country in terms of teaching and education but also research, and solving the problems of the nation. And actually impacting on policy making, testing policy but also providing evidence for policy that might come through from government. The UR Sweden Programme started in 2002 with the former National University of Rwanda. And as you know, after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, many of our staff were killed in the Genocide, leaving the university without enough staff to take care of the teaching and the running of the university by that time with an increased number of students. The support of Sida to the National University of Rwanda came as an emergency support to pay expatriate staff. Of course, quickly it was realized that this would not be enough and a fully-fledged programme supporting the research training, supporting the capacity building of Rwandan started by then. In line with the development goals of Rwanda, the UR-Sweden Programme consists of three components: Research Training, Research Infrastructure and Research Management. Together they form the basis for building research capacity at the University of Rwanda. The programme consists of twenty subprogrammes divided into three components. In these subprogrammes twelve Swedish partner universities are involved in building research capacity in a wide range of academic fields. In the current third phase, the Programme
has a budget of 50 million USD. The UR-Sweden Programme, if you look at its various components, they all talk to or supports our initiatives
in terms of research capacity building. For example, there is PhD training, which is a major component of the programme and as part of our research strategy is to increase the proportion of staff with PhD’s. Currently, about 20% of our staff have got a PhD, but we would like to build this to almost 60% in the next 10 years. So the programme is really contributing a lot in that aspect. At the moment, 60 staff members from the UR are enrolled as PhD students in the so-called sandwich mode. In this unique system, the students are still employed at the university. They spend about half of their time in Sweden and half of their time at the UR. Since the start, the Programme has produced 38 PhD graduates of which almost a third are women. Most of the graduates have returned to the UR to teach and do research. In addition to PhD programmes, more than 300 students have graduated from Master’s programmes supported by the UR-Sweden programme since 2006. Overall, the employability of UR graduates has improved and they contribute to a highly skilled workforce. The Programme is supporting the establishment of Master’s programmes and now even PhD’s. With students enrolled in this programme is going to also increase our capacity. Then, the Sida programme, I mean the UR-Sweden Programme is also supporting or funding staff to attend conferences, those who publish papers. Again, we encourage our staff to publish, because that is part of their responsibility as a researcher. In that aspect, the Programme is also contributing. Research Infrastructure targets the development of the university library and Information and Communication Technology, ICT. And then now, if you look at the aspects of the library, ICT, they all support research in terms that staff are able to access materials very fast, very quickly. The library has got e-recourses, which staff needs. All in all I would say, what Sida, the Programme is supporting, is line with what we want to build in terms of research capacity. A modern research library is necessary for the research development of a university. When the programme started in 2002, the university library was considered as simply a storage place for books with out-dated library materials and a lack of trained staff. Through the programme the library became a better equipped research library and electronic resources were introduced. ICT-technology plays a major role in the development of the new library. There are still challenges, such as improving utilization of the library and its resources, and providing an adequate number of trained staff. Going into the current phase, with the university now has 14 campuses we are investing in connecting them together with the ICT. Making sure that the country’s first interlibrary loan system actually gets set in place. At the basis of that is an integrated Management Information System, which the Programme is also supporting and providing to the university. A lot of the things the university does at a very fundamental level today including student loan services, interlibrary loan services, the entire sort of ICT backbone is part of what we fund. Research Management focuses on strengthening the university administration, to support research and training of administrative staff. With the help of the Programme, the UR has further developed its strategic plan and research policies. In addition to supporting PhD students, 287 researchers from the UR have received research grants from the Programme, spread across 55 research projects. Restoring relationships and rebuilding trust among Rwandans plays a significant role in Rwanda’s development process after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Peace, Conflict and Development Studies was one of the first subprogrammes when the UR-Sweden Programme started. This subprogram is being implemented by the UR Center for Conflict Management, CCM, and focuses on reconciliation, good governance, security and stability. The subprogramme, Peace and Conflict, is very important for CCM because of its contribution in the development of capacities of CCM in terms of research, teaching even service to the community. We do also research in the Great Lakes region and you have an international conference on the Great Lakes region on peace and security every year. This is also financed by the Programme, which means the Programme has helped CCM very deeply in achieving its mandate. In each subprogramme, the UR collaborates with a Swedish partner university. In the Peace, Conflict and Development Studies subprogramme, the partnership has been mutually beneficial for both the CCM and the School of Global Studies, SGS, at the University of Gothenburg. The collaboration is important for SGS for three reasons I would say. The first one would be collaboration we didn’t have before. Now we have collaborations in Rwanda. We also do research in Rwanda which we didn’t do before. That is one thing. The other thing would be the research environment here at SGS has been enriched, of course, since we have had our Rwandan students. They come here with their background experience. The third one would be that we contribute with our expertise on site in Rwanda. So I would say those three. Ezechiel is a PhD graduate and is now a lecturer and researcher at the UR. His PhD research was about peacebuilding in Post-Genocide Rwanda and The Role of Cooperatives in the Restoration of Interpersonal Relationships. I believe to have contributed in the reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda by showing that when conflicting parties that is genocide survivors and genocide perpetrators are brought together into a cooperative. That is into contact within the cooperative organisation actually, and the cooperative organisation is that institution which has values and principles and the values and principles that are guiding a cooperative are those, are many actually. Among those there are love, friendship, democracy, equity, self-help, solidarity. This brings about change as far as the relationships are concerned. Contacts with the former supervisors are often maintained after the PhD student graduates resulting in continuing research collaborations. One thing we are very happy for and that is a great achievement, I think, is that it has generated a lot of research collaborations between our former supervisors and the former PhD students. When they have now returned to Rwanda, they are co-writing articles and they have submitted joint applications for research funding and they are engaging in joint projects. And I think that is fantastic. Agriculture is the most common type of work in Rwanda. By training Master’s and PhD students, the Agriculture subprogramme aims to increase the critical mass of specialists contributing to the transformation and modernization of the Rwandan agricultural sector. This will help farmers to improve their farming techniques. By learning good technique and even better technology of farming they will increase their production. Those who are dealing with plant disease, they will know how to to behave during the preparation of their field in order to avoid them. When to treat the plant. This also contributes to the increase of the production. When they produce more they earn more money. It helps in income generation, increasing income generation. Through that one it fights the poverty. Land erosion, in Rwanda, is a major problem affecting farmers. Through the research in this subprogramme, solutions are found that will help farmers. Some examples of research topics include: plant diseases affecting potato and banana production, and registration and performance of dairy cattle. The growing population in Rwanda has increased the pressure on farmland. Land reform, the redistribution of mainly agricultural land, is intended to solve this situation and lead to greater security of land ownership. Theophile, a PhD graduate in the subprogramme Environment, explored the land use dynamics in areas in Rwanda with rapid population increase during his PhD studies. Land reform is a kind of change that enables farmers to increase the productivity of the land. While the land continues to belong to them. It is very important because before everyone was exploiting his piece of land as he wants or she wants. Everyone was cultivating what he wants. So that’s why some changes where needed because the productivity was very low and the cultivation was for subsistence. Nowadays you can see that farmers are managing to even sell some portion of the production. Rwanda is no exception to the increased global impact of natural and other disasters. Research in disaster management is key in preventing such disasters. Currently, we are facing a lot of effect of disaster in Rwanda and in general all over the world. What we have as lack in Rwanda is prior planning for allocating the resources which can help in the rescue of lives and other infrastructure effect. What we want is to provide efficient planning which can be used to reduce those effects of disasters. If we take an example of like evacuation planning or shelter planning we can allocate the health centres, which could be really helpful in emergency response. We could also allocate like safe areas during evacuation. We take in general resources that could be used for saving lives in case of disaster. Rwanda pursues to move from a purely agriculture-based economy to a more industry and service-based economy. This is complemented by a stable macroeconomic environment and a sensible exchange rate policy. Recent publication is about the effect of flexible exchange rate on the current account adjustment especially for developing and middle income countries. The way I basically argue is that countries need to make their exchange rate regime more flexible. It is more about looking at external shocks and how they affect the macro economy of the countries, including Rwanda. After all these years in university from Bachelor, Master’s taking theoretical courses it is very important at this stage to be able to put in practise all the theoretical concepts that one has had. So that in the end you are able in fact to make this link between the academic world and the real world. The UR-Sweden Programme is promoting close interaction between academia and stakeholders in the public and private sectors. In 2013, the subprogramme Law took the initiative to establish the Legal Forum, which is a platform where stakeholders within the legal system meet to discuss relevant legal issues and learn from the best practices. The collaboration between lawmakers and students has a mutual benefit. For us, we are in courts. Lawmakers are in their institution. They try to imagine the situation to give appropriate law. But students are like a bridge between our institutions and the field. They can do their research and see if the solution given by our courts, our lawmakers, are really giving a sustainable solution. We need that bridge. I am conducting the research on the application of the best interest of the child in Rwandan judicial proceedings. What this is about, is looking at how judges, prosecutors, judicial officers determine, or how they understand, the best interest of the child every time they are dealing with child related cases. I very much believe in what I am doing at the moment. And why I believe in that is, because that I think it will truly make an impact. Rwanda’s development depends on a healthy population, and the country has invested in health care services. Today more than 78% of the population is covered by health insurance and over the last decade the infant mortality rate has reduced from 107 to 31 deaths per 1000 live births. The aspect of access to quality healthcare services is very important. Improvement of the health of the population is very important. When we educate researchers, actually during doctoral research they produce findings that are useful for policies in the country. Also, they will contribute to actually guide the interventions like prevention like management of disease. I work as a senior lecturer at the School of Pharmacy and Medicine where I am involved in teaching and research. Teaching involves clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, research methodology and pharmacy practice. When it comes to deal with research involved in supervising postgraduate research and also having some projects which I am conducting right now. Research is important because it gives you a basis of making accurate decisions. Especially when it comes to deal with the health of the population. You need to have conducted research before deciding before knowing what to do. Research is the basis of decision making. The subprogramme Medicine and Health Sciences trains PhD students in the areas of medicine and public health. Research in these areas will improve the population’s health and contribute to the generation of scientific knowledge of high international quality. My research is about the assessment of development of anti-bodies in the response to the vaccine in Rwanda. But also to find out other etiologies of other infections which are not diagnosed in routine in our country. Here in Gothenburg I am just running the ELISA testing to find out the antibodies which have been developed among Rwandans against the measles, which is a vaccine preventable disease, against Chikungunya virus, against West Nile virus, and Zika virus also. The PhD students work closely together with their supervisors. I am Eric’s supervisor. As several other students he brought his own material here. We analyse it and the thought is that afterwards he can bring this kind of analysis back to Rwanda and continue at home. As you heard from him his interest is very updated about mosquito born viruses and vaccinations programmes. It has been really exciting to follow his development. Information and Communication Technology is a central engine driving Rwanda’s transformation to a knowledge-based economy. In 2015, the World Economic Forum ranked Rwanda No. 1 globally for Government Success in promoting ICT to drive social and economic transformation. The UR-Sweden Programme is supporting research in ICT in many areas: ICT in Education, ICT in Government and the Public Sector, Telecommunication, Computer Engineering and Computer Science. It is very important to do research in ICT and education, because I think that ICT is guiding the development of the country. It is a facilitator, enabler of different activities that we can do. Including the development in all sectors of development: health, agriculture, business. ICT is very, very key. When we do research, we inform policy making, we inform practice and we also develop a new knowledge. We have established a centre for distance learning which is responsible for making sure that all the other colleges are having their course accessible online. We are getting that far, but also we have introduced online assessments of courses by students which means that students can go into the system and evaluate their lecturers. The mobile network coverage is almost 100% of the country and the current subscriber base was 78% of the population in 2015. Today I can communicate with my mom and my mom has then only three years primary school. Only three years. She can communicate with me, she tells me my cow is growing up and it needs a veterinary. So you see, she can call a veterinary from home. Christine is a PhD student in ICT Research at Blekinge Institute of Technology. She is evaluating the possibility of access to web services by people in rural areas given Rwanda’s roll-out of fibre optics throughout the country. Another research topic of hers, which is very applicable, is the testing of the performance of different free database applications and researching the potential of Cloud Computing. I try to know how we can handle big data. This is like any sort of data that we have is being trafficked of internet or wherever we go we need data. Rwanda needs this especially for managing our data such as the database of the whole population. We need to know how many people we have, the identifications, what they do, anything that as information we need from people. First of all companies will benefit, and next public services also may benefit this in a way that if they are using this open source applications which are cheap, I would say. And then people can access public services through this applications and then the whole country is benefiting from this. ICT is considered an important aspect in developing Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy. Continuous improvement of ICT solutions are needed to further enhance the service delivery from both public and private sectors. The UR-Sweden Programme has been and still is a major contributor to the progress of the University of Rwanda. The transformation from a teaching based university to a research based university has effectively contributed to the development of Rwanda and to the fight against poverty. The Swedish partnership is an essential factor in this ongoing transformation. In future I see UR being very active in research. Doing research on relevant issues of development of Rwanda. Also, I see research being done in close connection with the public and the private sector. Those relations need to come out. And also research that leads to innovation. To that we need critical mass of researchers and that is still yet to be done. We have researchers. The numbers are increasing but still we need many more, many more. And to that you cannot train all of them abroad. That means in the future we need to have our programme. We have started the initiative but we really haven’t gotten far. Eventually, we need to have our own PhD programme that trains people who are well qualified in Rwanda. One of the challenges that the UR is facing is to establish a sustainable research culture. During these years since the programme started we have achieved a lot, really, but there are still challenges. For instance, we need to increase the number of PhD holders by developing in-house PhD training. We really need to think about sustainability. What happens after Sida is gone? We need to also to focus on developing a genuine research culture within the university. And also, so important, to increase the usage of research done in the university outside the university, in Rwanda. For this to happen, people have to know what kind of research is done within the university. So we need to communicate all the wonderful research that is being done on relevant research topics. So in the future we expect that research will be a natural part of the university and its activities and not considered as something extra. I hope that in the future all lecturers and all professors will do research and do supervision. We are almost at the end of the existing phase with Sida. The funding phase is ending by 2018. What is the role of Sida going forward? First of all, I would love to see the funding extended to another phase. I would love to see, which is already now in place, this diversity of domains in Sida funding. That is really something that is commendable. Every single college within the university has a subprogramme in the Sida funding programme that we are benefiting from. Meaning that we are trying to building capacity strategically, tackling on areas that have been identified for the university where we would want to go. We want the University of Rwanda in the future to be seen that the university is making an impact, a positive impact to changing people’s lives, to developing the country, making research findings and results that really have a tangible impact to the people’s life here in Rwanda. Main thing is not the equipment or personnel but it is the interest of the researchers. Because this programme has brought in so many interested persons, also women now in the Medicine programme. We think it should be continued until this development can perpetuate itself in Rwanda. It will take some more years. But it sure will happen. I think most of the impacts would be intangible impacts. The things that are difficult to measure. There are lots of tangible outcomes from the Programme. The numbers of international conferences, the numbers of conference presentations, the research papers, the people who achieved their Master’s and PhD’s. Of course, we’ve had one of the top PhD candidates in Sweden I think in the last year. Those are the things that are easy to measure. We like to measure those things. The kind of intangible things are the relationships that have built up between academics between administrators between universities that actually have led to other things. Pursuing other research grants, pursuing publications and joint interests beyond that. A modern research based university is central to the success of becoming the knowledge based society that Rwanda aspires to be. Rwanda’s future is as amazing as it present is. This is a remarkable country in so many aspects, in terms of health care, in terms of trade and industry, in terms of self-reliance, in terms of development and all sorts of development indices not only in health but in terms of community and other population indicators. Its present is amazing giving its history. Its future is similarly pretty remarkable, I think. Everything is moving consistently in an upwards direction. That is a real challenge for the University of Rwanda because the University of Rwanda needs to move in parallel with the country’s progress and development. The University of Rwanda plays a crucial role in helping Rwanda to reach its goal of becoming a middle-income country with a knowledge based society. Thanks to the UR-Sweden Programme, the UR is able to fulfil this role and help Rwanda to continue its transformation into a country that is united and gives hope, opportunities, and a better future for its people.