History and Origins

The origins of USHEPiA can be traced back to when Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Martin West represented the University of Cape Town (UCT), one of six South African universities invited to send observers at a meeting of the African Association of Universities (AAU) in 1993. During this meeting the AAU agreed that African universities might co-operate individually with South African universities in advance of political change in South Africa.

Professor West then spent some time visiting universities in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in order to familiarise himself with conditions, make contacts, and develop plans for an exchange programme.

During 1992 the University of Cape Town had initiated discussions with the Rockefeller Foundation to obtain funding for possible capacity-building partnerships with other African universities, in the areas of science and engineering.

Using a Launching Grant of 50,000 from Rockefeller, UCT was able to bring 21 Vice Chancellors and Deans of Science and Engineering of other African universities to UCT for preliminary discussions.  These centred on useful forms of co-operation, and there was unanimity as to the importance of staff development.  In general, a staff development programme with UCT was favoured because

  1. research was likely to be more relevant to the continent 
  2. costs were likely to be lower than an equivalent scheme in Europe or North America, and 
  3. it was hoped that a continental location would reduce the threat of a ‘brain-drain’. 
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by all present, supporting mutual collaboration to strengthen science and engineering capacity in Africa, and authorizing UCT to solicit funding for a suitable staff capacity-building programme.

The Rockefeller Foundation then provided a $200,000 Challenge Grant to UCT to develop the Science and Engineering initiative in Africa.  In 1995 other funding was obtained from the Carnegie Corporation, the Coca Cola Foundation and the Ridgefield Foundation.  The major sponsors of the UCT initiative required that senior UCT staff undertake visits to African universities and government officials prior to awarding any capacity building funds.

UCT Delegation Visits to Other African Universities and Governments

The UCT delegations comprised what became the core of the Management Group for USHEPiA. 
Prof D.R. Woods (Deputy Vice Chancellor), Pro. West (Project Leader) and Ms L.Y. Shackleton (Project Director) visited all of the selected countries.  Prof V.C. Moran (Dean of Science) visited Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, and Prof J.B. Martin (Dean of Engineering) visited Botswana and Zimbabwe.

During the discussions with partner universities it became clear that the priority was to develop science and engineering capacity to enable sub-Saharan scientists and engineers to compete as equals internationally, thereby contributing to the socio-economic upliftment of Africa. Certain points were highlighted :

  • the need to concentrate on research in fields appropriate to Africa’s needs 
  • the importance of mutually beneficial collaboration built on common interest 
  • effective staff development by means of ongoing research collaboration between participating institutions. 
A modus operandi was developed whereby post-graduate degrees would be obtained by registration either at the home university or at UCT, with supervisors at both UCT and the home university.  Fieldwork should take place in the home country with attendance at UCT when necessary, to access resources and expertise.  Additional benefits such as staff exchanges for lecture series, external examining, short courses, and mutual research, were deemed to be important and valuable.

The delegations’ visits proved to be very valuable.  Personal contact was made with key administrators and academics.  Visits to the various campuses allowed the delegates to assess existing levels of infrastructural support.  This kind of contact has assisted in both the selection of candidates and the understanding of their specific infrastructural support requirements.

Expansion to Include Humanities Fellows

During the visits to the above-mentioned African universities, UCT delegates were constantly asked why the USEPiA programme did not include the Humanities.  As a result of this interest, the University of Cape Town approached the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and obtained a generous grant to establish an Humanities programme which included the liberal and performing arts, social sciences, humanities, economics and education.


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