Innovative Approaches to Doctoral Education in Africa (IDEA)

Article published in "Horizons", edited by the International Association of Universities (IAU). Vol 19, n. 2, June 2013.

Josep M. Vilalta and Nadja Gmelch


The main goal of the Catalan Association of Public Universities (Associació Catalana d’Universitats Públiques - ACUP -, formed by the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Universitat de Girona (UdG), Universitat de Lleida (UdL), Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), is to sum up the forces of the public Catalan universities to promote joint initiatives, programs and projects with the aim of improving higher education both inside and outside Catalonia. One central working area of the Association is university development cooperation where ACUP is developing various initiatives on doctoral education in Africa.


Two and a half years ago ACUP created the African-Spanish Higher Education Management Platform, initiative that received funding from the Spanish Cooperation Agency (AECID), and that aims at being a permanent forum of exchange in the field of university management, involving European and African universities and thereby strengthening the role of universities as essential agents for social and economic development. The first phase of the African-Spanish Higher Education Management Platform centered on doctoral education in sub-Saharan Africa. Working in collaboration with nine higher education institutions from different African countries (Université d’Antananarivo, Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Université de Yaoundé I, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial, Addis Ababa University, Universidade Agostinho Neto, Universtité Abdou Moumouni, Université de Bamako), ACUP undertook research on the current situation of doctoral education at these institutions and published a report on the “Challenges of Doctoral Programmes and Research Training in sub-Saharan Africa”.


Shared goals and research values in the work on doctoral education brought IAU and ACUP to collaborate in this project and jointly organize an international seminar on “Innovative Approaches to Doctoral Education and Research Training in sub-Saharan Africa” which took place in July 2012 in Addis Ababa. (More information on the seminar and the principal outcomes can be found at the ACUP and IAU websites.) In addition, IAU and ACUP developed, in close collaboration with the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) the online portal IDEA -, a virtual forum that fosters exchange and knowledge on doctoral education.


Currently, ACUP is working together with UOC and Kenyatta University on a project that has received a grant from the IAU LEADHER programme, analyzing the use of digital technologies, more specifically the web 2.0 tools in order to respond two main needs identified in doctoral education in sub-Saharan Africa: supervision of doctoral students and the visibility of research. Through the use of Personal Learning Environments for Doctoral Students (PLEDS), a lifetime personal web spaces equipped with software, communication, search, social and multimedia tools that allow students to gather and organize relevant learning information from the net and to disseminate their own material, new models of effective e-supervision are explored. In this sense, PLEDS can be used as a mean to creat a digital identity for doctoral students, serving as a digital public notebook and personal repository, facilitating the establishment of a virtual network between colleagues working in the same field, including mentors and tutors.