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Bosch Pan-African College on Sustainable Cities kicks off at the GCI

The Bosch Pan-African College on Sustainable Cities launched at the Global Change Institute (GCI), University of Witwatersrand in August this year with a kick-off meeting where partners discussed recruitment of fellows from partner organisations around Africa. The partners reviewed how each of the fellows’ research would meet the four major themes of the College, and talked about building synergy among the College’s partner institutions.

The Bosch Pan-African College on Sustainable Cities kicked off with a meeting at University of Witwatersrand on 20 and 21 August, hosted by the Global Change Institute. College partners are: (top left to right) Ms Alacia Armstrong (Wits, Network Coordinator), Ms Anna Kirstgen (Robert Bosch Stiftung), Dr Yaw Boafo (UNU-INRA); (bottom left to right) Dr George Owusu (University of Ghana), Dr Alex Wafer (Wits), Prof Barend Erasmus (Wits, Coordinator of the Pan-African College on Sustainable Cities).

The Pan-African College is coordinated by Prof Barend Erasmus, and supported by Network Coordinator Alacia Armstrong. Funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the College brings together experts in the broad field of urban studies from the University of Ghana, University of Nairobi, University of Cape Town (UCT), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA, based in Accra, Ghana). Thirteen PhD and postdoctoral fellows from across these five institutions form the core of the network, who will conduct research projects focussing on the four main research themes: alternative provisioning of basic services, typologies of urban sprawl and other land use dynamics, governance and sustainability in the African urban context, and repositioning the African cities debate.

The day-and-a-half long meeting focussed on the recruitment of fellows at each of the partner institutions. “The idea was to gauge the quality of the applicants and their research proposals,” says Armstrong. “We wanted a transparent selection process across the network, and to provide assistance and advice where needed.”

The college received over 110 applications, with each partner institution conducting their own selection process. The selected fellows’ research proposals align very well with the four thematic areas of the College, and showed excellent synergy between institutions. This increases opportunities for collaboration, co-supervision and training across the network partners, paramount to the success of the College. Successful fellows will be appointed in the next few weeks, ahead of the upcoming workshop in 2019.

“Overall, we were very impressed with the quality of the candidates, and how well their personal research interests aligned with that of the College, says Armstrong. “A number of the fellows are strong female candidates, many of whom are involved in solving challenges within their local communities.”

“We are quite excited about what the fellows can achieve, academically, as well as the impact they can have on their communities.”

This kick-off meeting was also an opportunity for the GCI to strengthen their collaboration with their South African partner, the African Centre for Cities at UCT, ahead of a planned workshop in 2019 to be co-hosted by Wits and UCT.

“We hope to strengthen our relationship as national partners ahead of the 2019 workshop, and share knowledge and resources between our institutions. I’m confident that the first workshop of the Pan-African College will be a success,” says Armstrong. To this end, partners from UCT and Wits will meet in November to plan the workshop, with the overarching goal of providing fellows with an immersive experience. In collaboration with community-based organisations, academic specialists and municipality planners, fellows will learn about the local context of specific community challenges. In addition, there will be training in soft skills such as grant-writing and science communication, seminars from area specialists, and research proposal presentations from the fellows themselves.

Armstrong says the partners hope to see a high level of collaboration among the fellows, as Robert Bosch Stiftung has made funds available for intercontinental travel for workshops and other activities. “This workshop will be a great opportunity for the new fellows to meet other research partners, to share their research interests, and receive feedback from world experts in the field of urban studies. We are hoping that the fellows themselves will create strong partnerships, because they are our future research leaders,” she says. “We want them to build relationships among themselves and connect with networks outside of this College, ” says Armstrong.