Africa’s Unique Innovative University

2012-05-17 18:34

A fascinating university has been developed in West Africa to directly inspire, guide and reinvigorate innovation in communities. University for Development Studies was created as a direct community innovation university  to solve, through innovative ideas, the world’s biggest problems of underdevelopment and stagnation.

The University for Development Studies in Ghana has sparked an important conversation among educators, policy makers and the public at large about how universities can connect, shape and redefine the world beyond their campuses in a direct immediate robust manner. Since the establishment of the University many scholars, educators and public policy makers across the world have taken notice:

And recently, in the United States a most popular book has been written entitled Engines of Innovation: The entrepreneurial University in the 21st Century.

University for Development Studies is very unique in a numbers of respects:  It is a caring university with rich practical day to day experience of the communities it is serving - it is not an ivory tower facility floating above the communities.

The mandate, vision and mission of the University for Development Studies is different to traditional universities - its mandate from government is to work closely with communities and grassroots institutions to ensure that poverty alleviation measures are implemented in a participatory problem-solving manner. This means that both staff and students must be able to interact intimately with community members, in order to identify with them their challenges.

Since its inception, the University for Development Studies has sought to achieve a paradigm shift in higher education provision, in order to tackle entrenched socio-economic problems in Africa. Its guiding principles is that “the most feasible and sustainable way of tackling underdevelopment and poverty is to start from what people know and understand and then ‘rub in’ scientific knowledge”.

The University for Development is a multi-campus imprint, established in Ghana’s northern savannas to “blend the academic world with the community in order to provide constructive interaction between the two”. In this interaction, the university brings in ideas and the communities brings in issues, chronic problems of underdevelopment and poverty. The ideas are rubbed on the community to better it. In this way the university serves as a bettering agent. The curricula of the Faculties of University for Development Studies emphasizes community entry, community dialogue, extension and practical tools of inquiry. Students throughout their studies are required to continually discuss the importance of indigenous (local) knowledge and how that knowledge can be effectively distilled and combined with ‘scientific knowledge’.

The emphasis is doing field work or practical work where students are required to live and work in the 200 selected rural communities throughout their four-year degree programme. The fieldwork involves close grassroots interaction with the communities picked for "bettering". The communities are assisted to prepare their profiles, identity their uniqueness and prioritize their needs (challenges). With this laborious process successfully completed the University (the students) formulate interventions, questions are posed on how to improve, how to enhance life, how to better the community. The fieldwork reinforces the spirit of solidarity between students and the communities, and exposes students to the complexities of development beyond the classroom.

The students, with guidance from their faculty, identify development challenges, goals and opportunities with the community and design ways of working towards those goals and aspirations together with the community.

Many governmental and non-governmental organisations undertake development work in Africa. The fieldwork of the students reinforces the work of most of these organizations. The field exposure helps students to build up ideas and body of knowledge about development and also to see practically what is taught in the classroom or read in books.

The results of the University for Development Studies is the creation of an army of young people conscious of development challenges and have skills to put in place interventions that are direct and ready made to the challenges for real development. In most cases these students after they graduate are highly skilled when engaging with the international donor agencies because they have real practical grassroots understanding of the problems of underdevelopment and poverty. They are also suitable for employment in international development agencies, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations and so on.

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