Congressional skeptic on global warming demands records from U.S. climate scientists


The dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen behind the emissions, and a smokestack, from the Capitol Power Plant, the only coal-burning power plant in the nation’s capitol, on March 10, 2014.  (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

Written October 23, 2015. 


Joby Warrick joined the Post’s national staff in 1996. He has covered national security, intelligence and the Middle East, and currently writes about the environment.

The head of a congressional committee on science has issued subpoenas to the Obama administration over a recent scientific study refuting claims that global warming had “paused” or slowed over the last decade.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a prominent congressional skeptic on climate change, issued the subpoenas two weeks ago demanding e-mails and records from U.S. scientists who participated in the study, which undercut a popular argument used by critics who reject the scientific consensus that man-made pollution is behind the planet’s recent warming.

Smith’s document request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ordered the agency to turn over scientific data as well as internal “communications between or among employees” involved in the study, according to a letter Friday by the House committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Tex.). Johnson accused Smith of “furthering a fishing expedition” by looking for ways to discredit NOAA’s study, which was published in June in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

“It is a disturbing trend for the legitimacy of this committee,” Johnson said in the letter to Smith. She linked the subpoena to previous requests by the committee’s Republican staff seeking information about NOAA’s climate researchers, which Johnson called “a serious misuse of Congressional oversight powers.” Noting that NOAA routinely publishes supporting data for its studies, Johnson said Smith had “not articulated a legitimate need for anything beyond what NOAA has already provided.”

[U.S. scientists say the global warming “pause” never happened.]

Smith, responding to Johnson’s letter, said the subpoena was not “harassment” but “appropriate constitutional oversight.”

“This scandal-ridden administration’s lack of openness is the real problem,” Smith said in a statement released by his office. “Congress cannot do its job when agencies openly defy Congress and refuse to turn over information. When an agency decides to alter the way it has analyzed historical temperature data for the past few decades, it’s crucial to understand on what basis those decisions were made.”
Smith, a lawyer who became chairman of the science committee in 2013, has repeatedly rejected mainstream scientific views about climate change, while accusing the Obama administration of undermining the U.S. economy with policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In writings and speeches, Smith has frequently cited scientific studies that suggested a slowing or even a halt in the rise of global temperatures since 2000.

[Scientists reject claim that the solar changes are causing climate change.]

The existence of a warming “pause” came under question following several new scientific analyses early this year. The study that prompted the subpoenas was led by NOAA’s Thomas Karl, who heads its National Centers for Environmental Information, and was regarded by many experts as a bombshell in the climate change debate.

The NOAA study reported on a series of adjustments to the agency’s influential temperature data set, seeking to address “residual data biases” affecting some sources of measurement, such as ocean temperature measurements taken by ships.

The result was that the “newly corrected and updated global surface temperature data … do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus,’” Karl and his fellow researchers reported.

“Our new analysis now shows the trend over the period 1950-1999, a time widely agreed as having significant anthropogenic global warming, is 0.113°C [per decade], which is virtually indistinguishable with the trend over the period 2000-2014 (0.116°C [per decade]),” they continued.

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by The Washington Post and was retrieved on 10/30/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The thoughts, views, opinions, and analysis expressed in the article remains those of the author. Please cite the original source and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

Giving soils a voice


Written by: By Juliet Braslow, CIAT Soils Research Area Coordinator, October 27, 2015.


We don’t directly drink or breathe soil, so it’s often forgotten as we trample over it.

Raising awareness and inspiring action for promoting and protecting our soils has been a central focus throughout this International Year of Soils (IYS). We need healthy soils for a healthy life because the bottom line is that no soil = no food.

We are nearing the end of this year of soils and are taking stock of progress made. How can we continue the momentum into 2016 to keep the soils profile high?  Yet this has just been the start – and a turning point for soils on global, national and local agendas.

Around the globe, diverse groups of people are gathering around the table, not over a meal per se, but to discuss where all meals start: the soil. However, we often end up preaching to the converted, to those who already believe in the importance of understanding, protecting, investing in one of our most precious resources. Awareness-raising and outreach beyond the inner circle of ‘soil converts’ is what IYS has done,  to get the public excited and engaged in the soil beneath their feet.

The evidence is clear in the level of engagement and outreach there has been around the topic. Partners of the European network for soil awareness (ENSA) have been using some very creative approaches: leveraging art to speak for soil (Decrustate 2015), soil playing cards, political initiatives (People4Soil), calendars, citizen soil science (Tea bag index), school activities, hands-on exhibits and much more. They’ve taken soils to the people.

And once you are there, what do you tell them? How do you go beyond raising awareness to give them a reason to care and take action?  It hasn’t been easy. But we developed tools and guidelines to follow to figure out how to best craft, target and deliver the pitch.

There are many resources out there, but sometimes it’s just easier to jump in and try, get feedback and adapt your pitch. That is just the process I led the ENSA network through last week to practice “giving soils a voice.”

We started by distilling our key messages. If you just had 30 seconds to tell someone why they should care about soils, what would you say? Mark Twain once said: “I would have written that shorter, but I didn’t have the time.” Find the time so your message can get through the information chaos of our world and stick in the mind of your listener.

Here’s a fun exercise to try and perfect your key message:
Imagine you had a quick minute to tell someone why she should care about soil
1. Write down what you want to say
2. Cross out words until you have the shortest sentence you possibly can
3. Deliver your simplified message to someone (person A)
4. Have that person (A) tell a person (B) who wasn’t in the room what you just said
5. If a person (A) who hears your simple message can repeat it accurately to the next person (B), you’ve got it!
6. If they don’t say exactly the words you want repeated go back to simplify it some more and try steps 3-4 again.

Now you have your key message, but how do you package that message in an engaging way? With a pitch. If you think about it, we’re all pitching and receiving pitches every day in one way or another. From making the case for what we want to eat for dinner to my pitch to get you to read this far in this blog.

Here are 5 simple pitching principles:
1. Know your audience – Who are you trying to convince? What interests them?
2. Be clear and crisp with your facts – use figures wisely and no jargon
3. Give it a human angle – Put a story behind your facts to create an emotional connection
4. Know your ask – What do you want someone to DO? Can your audience take this action?
5. Focus on soft skills – It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Be confident and humble. Engage your audience.

Most people these days are so overwhelmed with information that your message has to be simple and delivered in a catchy way to make it through the information clutter. It should go beyond informing to empowering someone to take action for the biggest impact. This can be the most challenging part of a pitch to craft, but the most powerful. If you communicate exactly what you are asking your listener to do, and it’s something they really can do, they are much more likely to take the first step. Wouldn’t you?

What is my pitch to you? Make the most of your meetings, coffee breaks, field visits and chance encounters by having your key messages and pitches practiced and ready to pull out of your pocket to inspire and empower.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published at the CIAT Blog and was retrieved on 10/29/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors. Please cite the original and this source (INDESEEM) accordingly.


 

Clemson researchers and IT scientists team up to tackle Big Data

Media Release


Jim Melvin, Public Service Activities October 29, 2015


 

Alex Feltus is an associate professor in genetics and biochemistry at Clemson.

Alex Feltus is an associate professor in genetics and biochemistry at Clemson. Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

CLEMSON — While researchers at Clemson University have recently announced an array of breakthroughs in agricultural and life sciences, the size of the data sets they are now using to facilitate these achievements is like a mountain compared to a molehill in regard to what was available just a few years ago.

But as the amount of “Big Data” being generated and shared throughout the scientific community continues to grow exponentially, new issues have arisen. Where should all this data be stored and shared in a cost-effective manner? How can it be most efficiently transferred across advanced data networks? How will researchers be interacting with the data and global computing infrastructure?

A team of trail-blazing scientists and information technologists at Clemson is working hard to answer these questions by studying ways to simplify collaboration and improve efficiency.

“I use genomic data sets to find gene interactions in various crop species,” said Alex Feltus, an associate professor in genetics and biochemistry at Clemson. “My goal is to advance crop development cycles to make crops grow fast enough to meet demand in the face of new economic realities imposed by climate change. In the process of doing this, I’ve also become a Big Data scientist who has to transfer data across networks and process it very quickly using supercomputers like the Palmetto Cluster at Clemson. And I recently found myself — especially in just the past couple of years — bumping up against some pretty serious bottlenecks that have slowed down my ability to do my best possible work.”

Big Data, defined as data sets too large and complex for traditional computers to handle, is being mined in new and innovative ways to computationally analyze patterns, trends and associations within the field of genomics and a wide range of other disciplines. But significant delays in Big Data transfer can cause scientists to give up on a project before they even start.

“There are many available technologies in place today that can solve the Big Data transfer problem,” said Kuang-Ching “KC” Wang, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and also networking chief technology officer at Clemson. “It’s an exciting time for genomics researchers to vastly transform their workflows by leveraging advanced networking and computing technologies. But to get all these technologies working together in the right way requires complex engineering. And that’s why we are encouraging genomics researchers to collaborate with their local IT resources, which include IT engineers and computer scientists. This kind of cross-discipline collaboration is reflecting the national research trends.”

In their recently published paper titled “The Widening Gulf between Genomics Data Generation and Consumption: A Practical Guide to Big Data Transfer Technology,” Feltus, Wang and six other co-authors at Clemson, the University of Utah and the National Center for Biotechnology Information discussed the careful planning and engineering required to move and manage Big Data at the speeds needed for high-throughput science. If properly executed, sophisticated data transfer networks, such as Internet2’s Advanced Layer2 Service, as well as the inclusion of advanced applications and software, can improve transfer efficiency by orders of magnitude.

“Universities and other research organizations can spend a lot of money building supercomputers and really fast networks,” Feltus said. “But with research computing systems, there’s a gulf between the ‘technology people’ and the ‘research people.’ We’re trying to bring these two groups of experts together and learn to speak a common dialect. The goal of our paper is to expose some of this information technology to the research scientists so that they can better see the big picture.”

It won’t be long before the information being generated by high-throughput DNA sequencing will soon be measured in exabytes, which is equal to one quintillion bytes or one billion gigabytes. A byte is the unit computers use to represent a letter, number or symbol.

Kuang-Ching “KC” Wang is an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and also networking chief technology officer at Clemson.

Kuang-Ching “KC” Wang is an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and also networking chief technology officer at Clemson. Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

In simpler terms, that’s a mountain of information so immense it makes Everest look like a molehill.

“The technology landscape is really changing now,” Wang said. “New technologies are coming up so fast, even IT experts are struggling to keep up. So to make these new and ever-evolving resources available quickly to a wider range of different communities, IT staffs are more and more working directly with domain science researchers as opposed to remaining in the background waiting to be called upon when needed. Meanwhile, scientists are finding that the IT staffs that are the most open-minded and willing to brainstorm are becoming an invaluable part of the research process.”

The National Science Foundation and other high-profile organizations have made Big Data a high priority and they are encouraging scientists to explore the issues surrounding it in depth. In August 2014, Feltus, Wang and five cohorts received a $1.485 million NSF grant to advance research on next-generation data analysis and sharing. Also in August 2014, Feltus and Walt Ligon at Clemson received a $300,000 NSF grant with Louisiana State and Indiana universities to study collaborative research for computational science. And in September 2012, Wang and James Bottum of Clemson received a $991,000 NSF grant to roll out a high-speed, next-generation campus network to advance cyberinfrastructure.

“NSF is increasingly showing support for these kinds of research collaborations for many of the different problem domains,” Wang said. “The sponsoring organizations are saying that we should really combine technology people and domain research people and that’s what we’re doing here at Clemson.”

Feltus, for one, is sold on the concept. He says that working with participants in Wang’s CC-NIE grant has already uncovered a slew of new research opportunities.

“During my career, I’ve been studying a handful of organisms,” Feltus said. “But because I now have much better access to the data, I’m finding ways to study a lot more of them. I see fantastic opportunities opening up before my eyes. When you are able to give scientists tools that they’ve never had before, it will inevitably lead to discoveries that will change the world in ways that were once unimaginable.”


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Nos. 1443040, 1447771 and 1245936. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by Clemson University and was retrieved on 10/29/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, thoughts, research findings, and information contain in the article remains those of the authors. Please cite the original and this source accordingly.


 

 

Opinion: No such thing as a free lunch, we should invest in the land

Dürre in Kalifornien

Drought in California

We all know that if you are spending more than you earn, there is a tipping point from which you can never recover. It is the point of bankruptcy.

The same is true of productive natural resources like land. Imagine that we have a land account, instead of a credit account. It is limited, and if we take too much without paying, it may not recover. The status of our land account today is unhealthy.

We are degrading fertile land faster than it can recover. In some cases, we are simply abandoning degraded land. We are not investing enough to ensure there will be productive land for the future. Land degradation, like credit, happens quickly, but recovery from it is not as fast. We are moving closer and faster towards that tipping point. We must change course.

Land being degraded too quickly

Globally, we have about 15 billion hectares of land, but only about half is usable for agriculture. This is our total agricultural land account. So far, we have degraded close to a quarter of the land available.

UNCCD Monique Barbut ExekutivsekretärinMonique Barbut is the head of the UNCCD, the UN convention fighting against desertification

We degrade 12 million hectares of land every year, on average. Most of it can be reclaimed, but we have degraded and then abandoned 500 million hectares of farmland. Moreover, more than half of all our agricultural land is moderately to severely degraded. This is unsustainable.

To live sustainably, each of us needs 0.07ha (700 square meters) of arable land as an absolute minimum. In 1961, we each had access to 0.45 ha (4,500 square meters). In 2011, 50 years later, that figure dropped to 0.2 ha (2,000 square meters). We simply don’t have another 2500 square meters to lose.

Demand for land is increasing

We are three times above the absolute minimum threshold. However, the gap is closing fast as demand rises for fertile land to produce biofuels and to reconvert arable land into forests to sequester carbon dioxide. Land grabs are increasing as freshwater sources in all regions of the world decline.

Urbanization too is on the rise and will seal yet more land. Prolonged droughts and floods will degrade some of the remaining fertile land due to climate change. At the same time, the global population will be growing. These needs will take more of the fertile land we need to produce food.

Bodenverschmutzung in ChinaWe have to establish equivalent ecosystems as compensation for degraded land, says UNCCD executive secretary Monique Barbut

Unless we follow a different path, we will need to clear at least 4 million hectares of new land every year on average, only to meet the demand for food up to 2050. The growing demand for land can, but need not, result in crises if we make investments that add value to our land account.

The first is to avoid degrading any new natural land and ecosystems. The second is to reclaim a hectare of previously-degraded land in the same ecosystem and within the same timeframe, whenever we degrade land. This will start to balance our land account.

Investing in sustainability

This vision may become the new global norm in September when governments agree on the Sustainable Development Goals.

But we can do more. We can turn our land account into a surplus by investing money to reclaim all the land we can from the two billion hectares that is degraded.

There is no time to waste. Land degradation is threatening the most vulnerable communities, from Darfur to Syria. Mass migrations are gathering pace as people lose their means of livelihoods. By 2045, more than 135 million people could migrate due to desertification alone.

The American economist Milton Freidman popularized the saying, “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” in praise of the free market. But the saying is just as relevant today in terms of land use. Fertile land is limited. Our survival depends on it. If we continue cashing in on it, without investing back into it, there will be consequences. There no such thing as a free lunch, not even for the land that produces it.

Monique Barbut is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.


 

Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Deutsche Welle and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and published here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The thoughts, views, opinions, and information expressed in this article remains those of the author. Please cite the original and this source accordingly.


 

Loss of fertile soils a food security risk

Compost worms

Going underground

The number of organisms living in a handful of soil outnumber all humans on the planet. They ensure that the humus layer stores nutrients and water. After oceans, soils represent the planet’s largest carbon bank. Soils store more carbon than all the world’s forests combined.


 

Worldwide deterioration of soil quality is a disaster in the making, warn experts like Jes Weigelt of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany.

“The situation in many regions of the world is very serious,” said Weigilt, who coordinated Global Soil Week in Berlin. “The world population is growing steadily. But usable land is shrinking,” Weigilt stated.

“Every year, 24 billion tonnes [metric tons] of fertile soil is lost: through erosion, development, flooding, mining – or through intensive agriculture.”

Not all ground is fertile

Land is not the same as soil, explained Luca Montanarella of the European Commission. He heads the European Soil Bureau Network on Lake Maggiore in Italy.

Infographic: Agricultural land use per capita

Arable land is being lost at a rate of 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) per day, Montanarella says. He clarified that the biggest losses are from the construction of roads, cities and industrial facilities.

Removing, sealing and compacting soil kills off the billions of microorganisms, bacteria and fungi that make a handful of earth a living microcosm. Once that life has been eliminated, all that remains is dead matter.

“Soils are renewable,” said Montanarella. “But we [creation of fertile soil takes] thousands upon thousands of years – not time spans that we can count in human generations.”

Soil preservation as development goal

Soil experts in the European Commission hope that the worldwide protection of soils will find a prominent place in the new sustainability development goals (SDGs) to be adopted by the UN general assembly in fall. These SDGs provide the political foundation for sustainable development in developing and industrialized nations.

For Montanarella, soil conservation counts among the most important requirements for sustainable development. And agriculture in particular must become sustainable, he thinks.

“If we want to maintain food production in Europe, we must protect our most fertile soils from destruction,” said Montanarella.

And he highlights another problem: “Regions like the European Union do not have enough soil for their own consumption, and are therefore dependent on imports from other countries.”

Globalizing soil

EU countries import 35 million tons of soy beans and soy meal from north and south America every year – to use as feed for pigs, chickens and cows.

Cultivation of primarily genetically modified soy for export uses land in developing countries that could go toward sustainable agriculture.

But even in industrialized countries like Germany, globalized industrial livestock farming presents a pollution problem.

“[Animal waste] is the root of considerable environmental problems in Germany, particularly in regions with intensive livestock farming,” explained agrarian economist Knut Ehlers of the German Environment Agency.

Infographic: Land use in Germany

Public burden

Although manure is also a fertilizer, too much is toxic for soil and water. The environmental impacts of factory farming “ultimately fall on the taxpayer,” said Ehlers.

Such agriculture is unsustainable, Ehlers stressed. He hopes that aiming more public attention to the issue of soil depletion on the national and EU levels will lead to more sustainable policy-making, and development of organic agriculture.

“We need agriculture that doesn’t just pursue maximum profit,” Ehlers said. “There must be more focus on the interplay between agricultural yields and other ecosystem services.”

Healthy soils, healthy foods

Building more sustainable agricultural practices benefits not only the environment, but also human health, said Swiss agriculture and development expert Han Herren. Recognized with the Alternative Nobel Prize Right Livelihood Award in 2013, Herren proposed that a variety of foods be cultivated.

“That would mean more and better crop rotation, resulting in fewer soil diseases, more microorganisms in the soil – and therefore healthier soil.”


Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Deutsche Welle and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The thoughts, views and information expressed in this article are those of the author only. Please cite the original source and our source accordingly.


 

 

The way forward for African universities

 

During a speech at the University of Johannesburg on 30 July 2015

Former South Africa President THABO MBEKI during a speech at the University of Johannesburg on 30 July 2015


This is the text of a speech delivered at the University of Johannesburg on 30 July 2015



I think the critical phrase is – “situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda”

We have gathered here at the University of Johannesburg to consider an important matter – “Moving Africa’s Universities Forward”.

I am certain that it is a matter of common cause among us and particularly the distinguished leaders of our universities that there has been extensive discussion over the years relating to the matter of the role and place of the African university in the 21st century.

We also have the advantage that only four months ago we had the first African Higher Education Summit on Revitalising Higher Education for Africa’s Future, which was held in Dakar, Senegal.

Even before that, in 2009, the Association of African Universities issued its “Abuja Declaration on Sustainable Development in Africa: The Role of Higher Education”, adopted at its 12th general conference of that year.

Even earlier, in 2006, UNESCO convened a colloquium at its headquarters in Paris under the theme – “Universities as Centres of Research and Knowledge Creation: An Endangered Species?”.

Though this colloquium was not focussed on Africa, nevertheless it came to conclusions which are directly relevant to the very theme this summit has convened to discuss.

I have mentioned all these initiatives to make the point that I believe that we have a pretty good idea of the matters on which we should focus to move Africa’s universities forward.

What remains to be done is to elaborate the practical and realistic programmes that should be put in place to achieve the objectives which have been identified.

I am certain that it is not necessary for me to list the catalogue of measures on which Africa must act to achieve our common objective of moving our universities forward. You are in any case better educated about this matter than I am.

However, it may not be amiss if I recall the principles mentioned in the draft declaration and plan of action adopted at the Dakar African Higher Education Summit. As you know, the document says:

“We agree to be guided by the following principles:

1. Provision of high quality, pan-African and globally competitive education;

2. Promotion of world class culture of research and innovation;

3. Provision of adequate resources;

4. Promotion of access, equity, and accountability;

5. Promotion of institutional autonomy and academic freedom;

6. Pursuit of operational excellence in institutional management;

7. Pursuit of the engagement of African academic communities in higher education policymaking;

8. Strengthening linkages to society, economy, and employers;

9. Building inter-institutional collaborations; and,

10. Pursuing mutually-beneficial internationalisation initiatives.”

I believe that all of us here are perfectly familiar with the detailed obligations which attach to honouring these principles including with regard to such matters as:

  • Increasing student enrolment, paying attention to the involvement of women;
  • Increasing the appropriately qualified teaching staff to maintain the necessary teacher/student ratios;
  • Ensuring adequate access to books and journals, the internet and ICT;
  • Building the physical infrastructure to enable the university to discharge its teaching, learning, research and community responsibilities;
  • Addressing issues of epistemology and curriculum development;
  • Attending to the matter of the employability of the graduating students in the economy, the state and the community;
  • Instituting a quality assurance system;
  • Focusing on the issue of the expansion of knowledge through research, publication and the access of students both to the practice and outcomes of research and encouraging innovation;
  • Optimising learning and research possibilities by establishing linkages among the African universities and institutes and establishing centres of excellence, including research institutes and universities, and drawing on the African intelligentsia and professionals who have left the continent through the so-called brain drain;
  • Increasing the intake of students and lecturers especially from other African countries while avoiding weakening the capacity to deliver quality higher education in any one of our countries; and generating the necessary funds to finance all these complex processes on a sustainable basis.

Needless to say, the challenge to achieve these objectives is not merely a technical matter. I strongly believe that it requires the right mind-set to bring about the important changes which I suppose are a matter of common cause.

In this respect, with your permission, I would like to cite some comments that have been made on the matter of the future of the African university, comments with which you will be familiar.

In his paper, “Tertiary Education and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa at the Dawn of the Twenty First Century: A Lost Hope, Or Present Opportunity?”, Raphael Ogom [of DePaul University, Chaicago] said: “In its current form, design and content, (sub-Saharan African higher education) is of limited relevance in the context of rapid social and economic changes in the region and bears little connections to the local economy and society.

“Modelled after European higher education, it has evolved from educating only a few highly qualified students into mass systems of lower quality (Bollag, 2004). This expansion, unfortunately, has not been accompanied by a grounded re-development of curricula that reflects, and is better suited, to the realities of the Sub-Saharan Africa environment and development needs.

“A re-think and re-design of the mission of higher education from the current curricula of theoretical sophistication, mismatch, and irrelevance to one that holistically aligns the educational system with the local industry and overall development needs, is long overdue… [Without this] it is likely, and regrettably so, that the socio-economic development promise of tertiary education in Africa might remain a lost hope at the dawn of the 21st century and beyond.”

I am certain that you are better placed to judge whether this assessment of our universities is correct. However I am certain that there is no gainsaying the fact that none of the changes proposed even at the Dakar Summit would make sense outside the context of the transformation urged by Professor Ogom.

In the 2009 Abuja Declaration I have mentioned, the Association of African Universities said:

“The real challenges for sustainable development in Africa are the promotion of economic and industrial development, the eradication of poverty, the resolution of conflicts, and the optimum use of its natural resources.

“[And yet] the African higher education research agenda tends to focus on purely academic and scientific objectives in order to ensure publication in refereed journals, with little regard to developmental needs because of the ‘publish or perish’ syndrome.

“Most of the research works in Africa are rarely relevant to the search for continental solutions to health, education, water, climate change, energy and food security – all sustainable development indices.

“Where research has been conducted in relevant areas, the findings have remained largely on shelves and unavailable to those who need to take action or implement the often useful recommendations.”

These observations are directly relevant to the important matter of the funding of higher education to which I will return.

But before I do so, please allow me to quote some comments made by emeritus professor Eldred Durosimi Jones of the University of Sierra Leone in his 2004 paper on “African Academics and African Universities in the Twenty-First Century: Needs and Responsibilities”.

Professor Jones writes: “[The] division between the privileged and the under-privileged [in Africa] has resulted in social and political instability which is bound to continue as long as a significant section of society is left out of the full participation for and enjoyment of the benefits of development.

“What then are some of these challenges that our academics must face if they are to fulfil their role in the surrounding society? They are to produce men and women who in addition to their particular skills as scientists, engineers, teachers, social workers, priests, artists etc., must be sufficiently aware and committed to eradicating this social scourge.

“Whatever their individual professional skills, students must emerge from our tertiary institutions with this social awareness… Programmes must be devised, preferably a general programme to be undertaken by all students irrespective of their particular discipline early in their courses of study.

“All the students should come out of such a course aware of their environment and their place in it. In these days, it must be realised that this environment is becoming increasingly global… Our aim in teaching should be to produce men and women who are both critical and creative. Our students should be encouraged to be thinkers and doers rather than accumulators of facts and received knowledge. This must be so if they are to be instruments of change, working towards the realisation of a just and consequently, stable society.”

This brings me to the very important matter of the generation of the funds needed to finance the changes needed to move Africa’s universities forward. In this regard I will refer only to the issue of public funds.

Correctly the Dakar Summit said it is necessary to “increase investment in higher education to facilitate development, promote stability, enhance access and equity; develop, recruit and retain excellent academic staff and pursue cutting-edge research and provision of high quality teaching. Appropriate investments are required at institutional, national, regional, and international levels.”

It then said: “Sustained efforts must be undertaken led by governments, and including all key stakeholders in higher education, to situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda. Establishing such a priority is a prerequisite to guarantee its funding.

“The expansion and provision of quality higher education will require proportionally higher, sustainable, and predictable levels of public funding.”

I think the critical phrase in these paragraphs is – “situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda.”

This is the development agenda to which the Association of African Universities referred, which would be addressed by the transformed universities of which Professpr Ogom wrote, sustained by the relevant research the Association of African Universities spoke about and promoted by the socially conscious graduates Professor Jones visualised.

The Dakar summit said the sustained efforts to situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda should be led by our governments.

I think this is wrong or perhaps I should say that it requires prior preparation.

Somewhere deep in its bowels, the Dakar declaration makes the critically important undertaking that: “African higher education institutions shall commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, public service and provision of solutions to the development challenges and opportunities facing African people across the continent.”

In my view this important paragraph should have been placed in the very preamble of the declaration.

In all humility I would have rephrased it to read something like this: “We have gathered at this 1st African Higher Education Summit to consider the strategic question of what the African universities should do effectively to help advance the African development agenda.

“We are firmly convinced that higher education on our continent should be situated at the centre of the African development agenda.

“Accordingly, the African higher education institutions shall commit themselves to public service and the provision of solutions to the development challenges and opportunities facing African people across the continent through the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and community service.”

As all of us know, at independence and for some time after that, our countries viewed our universities with great pride. Indeed many of these were a direct product of our liberation from colonialism.

In very practical ways these universities were indeed situated at the centre of the African development agenda through the supply of the required educated cadre, the generation of ideas to advance the development agenda and engagement in the upliftment of communities.

There is fairly extensive literature about how the then healthy relationship between the state and the university was weakened and destroyed. In many instances, if not most, this was linked to the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes by the Bretton Woods institutions and the perception among the African ruling elite that the universities were serving as centres of political opposition to this elite.

These combined in a process which led to the impoverishment and weakening as well as the marginalisation of the African University from both the state and the development agenda.

Thus did it come about that in many African countries governments came to consider expenditure on universities and therefore higher education as a burdensome but unavoidable cost rather than an absolutely necessary and beneficial investment.

I therefore think that one of the major tasks our universities must undertake is advocacy to convince the so-called political class in Africa that they are indeed situated at the centre of the African development agenda and therefore need new investment significantly to improve their capacity to discharge their responsibilities relating to that development agenda.

It is only once they are convinced about all this that it would be possible for our governments to lead the process which would result in the substantially larger public funding that is required and without which many of the radical changes that need to be made will not see the light of day.

We are very fortunate that when it approved the document “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” in January this year, the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government also endorsed the objective contained in that document, namely: “[To] build and expand an African knowledge society through transformation and investments in universities, science, technology, research and innovation; and through the harmonisation of education standards and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications [as well as] establish an African Accreditation Agency to develop and monitor educational quality standards across the continent.”

Perhaps the recognition of the need for an African knowledge society to achieve the Africa we want by 2063 is exactly the message we need to signal the commitment of our political leadership to provide the resources which will enable the African university to play its role, firmly situated at the centre of the Agenda 2063 development vision.

Time will tell how well the African state and the African university respond to the shared challenges they face!


Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Rand Daily Mail and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and published here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article remains those of the author. Please cite the original and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

 

 

 

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