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9 Building Stronger Universities

9.1 Introduction

This chapter documents the Evaluation findings and conclusions for two of the four platforms under the BSU initiative active in Ghana and Tanzania, the Environment and Climate Platform and the Growth and Employment Platform, and should be viewed in this context.

Detailed interviews and discussions were held with stakeholders involved in the two platforms in both countries. This included Danish scientists and administrators working in both countries but due to travel limitations, only scientists and administrators in Tanzania. The findings from interviews with Danish stakeholders who were working in both Tanzania and Ghana were similar. The focus of the Evaluation has been on these platforms and the situation in Tanzania which has been, and is, a major recipient of Danida support (see Chapters 2, 7 and 8).

The initiative originated from the Rectors’ Conference and was developed further in consultation with the partners in the South and in dialogue with Danida. The process resulted in a compromise structure with four platforms, a co-funding arrangement and a focus on institutional capacity building and but not research.

The co-funding is a condition of the Danida grant and requires that the Danish partner universities and institutions co-fund the initiative with an in-kind input equivalent to their share of the grant (excluding overheads). Part of the in-kind contribution is provided in human resources, although initially at least Aarhus University has also provided direct financial contributions. The in-kind contribution falls to departmental budgets and resources and has caused difficulties where staff have to justify non- productive (in terms of research papers or Danish-registered students) activities.

9.2 Relevance

The BSU initiative represents a new approach for strengthening institutional capacity at Southern universities, by creating partnerships with those in Denmark. The BSU initiative has the potential to provide inspiration and learning on institutional cooperation between universities in the South and North, which could be of benefit to other development partners.

The focus during BSU Phase 1 between 2011 and 2013 on strengthening capacity for PhD training and supervision at the Southern partner universities addressed an area of key concern and was perceived as highly relevant by both management and researchers at (SUA) and the (UDSM).

The BSU platforms are thematically based on Danish strategic priorities for development and as such are not necessarily relevant to the BSU aim of strengthening the institutional capacity of Southern universities, in response to their demands[68]. The platform approach has also resulted in tensions within and across universities in both Denmark and the South, where the thematic focus areas are an artificial element in the context of how the universities are organised and what their institutional capacity building needs are.

9.3 Effectiveness

Design and roll-out

The roll-out of the BSU initiative and the formulation of Phase 1 were to a large extent done through a top-down approach and Southern partner ownership of the modality has been low during this initial stage of the intervention.

Despite extensive discussions and some tension between the Danish universities, in particular at the initial stages of the BSU, the initiative has facilitated some cooperation between researchers across Danish universities, a cooperation that did not exist previously. In Denmark the BSUEC and BSUGE platforms have managed to establish more formalized cooperation and joint planning and implementation of activities.

Project descriptions are available for both Platforms[69], [70] which list a number of objectives and output indicators with guidelines and suggestions provided by Danish universities; the dialogue has to a large extent been driven from the Danish side.

There has only been limited delivery of the ambitious targets[71] set in the proposals of the two platforms; a recent Review commissioned by Danish Universities[72] omitted any mention of specific details on output delivery completed. Full analysis of performance is outside the Evaluation’s terms of reference.

The generic and specific PhD courses given by Danish senior researchers for PhD students and supervisors at the partner universities in the South[73] have been popular and well-attended by the students at the partner universities and for some courses the demand has exceeded the supply, and more courses have been requested (but not yet delivered). Exact participant numbers are not available for all courses as these have not been compiled and submitted by platform committees in the South, the data available are included in Annex K. From anecdotal evidence provided by interviews in Tanzania with Platform managers, responses to Training of Trainer courses to build institutional capacity, was poor (see below for possible reasons).

Due to delays in the submission of Inception Reports by the platforms, funding only started in late 2011 and early 2012, and this has delayed implementation of many of the planned courses although all PhD candidates had been registered by the end of 2012. Currently the 2011 Annual Reports for BSUEC and BSUGE are available online through the Platform websites[74], and for the BSUGE platform for 2012.

During Phase I, a small amount of funding was allocated for joint projects between researchers at Southern partner universities and Danish universities. The funds were allocated through a call for proposals and gave researchers the opportunity to develop and submit joint research project proposals for funding elsewhere. The interviews carried out with researchers in Denmark and in South indicated that this funding had been very effective for partners as seed money for approaching larger funding schemes, including the FFU, although this is outside the general ethos of the modality being focussed on research and at the individual rather than institutional level.

Despite the fact that later inception workshops were held at Southern partner universities, the overall framework for the BSU concept and Phase 1 design was largely developed and agreed in Denmark, although some adjustments were made following consultations with southern partners. There was no systematic capacity needs assessment, nor were the needs for support to the changes demanded by the new modality assessed.

Incentives and engagement

According to those involved at the operational level, only limited incentives to take part in implementation of capacity strengthening activities have been provided for senior researchers in Denmark and the South. The majority of senior Danish researchers interviewed, who had been involved with BSU activities, considered their time and effort spent on BSU insufficiently valued and appreciated by their institutions. Most of them would not be interested in implementing BSU activities again, unless the conditions for their involvement were significantly improved.

All of the interviewed Danish researchers had spent considerably more time on administrative issues than they were compensated for by the BSU. In addition, the agreed 1:1 co-financing by Danish Universities has not yet materialized as planned which has led to further demotivation among the Danish researchers. As a result, some Calls for proposals under the BSU have had no, or very few, applicants. Table 14 summarises the responses to calls, issued during Phase 1, for the two platforms, further detail is provided at Annex K.

Table 14 Summary of responses to Calls for Expression of Interest for BSUEG and BSUEC Platforms during Phase 1 of BSU
University Number of calls Average number of Responses (Range)
BSU – Growth and Employment Platform
SUA 9 3.4 (2-6)
UDSM 9 1.8 (1-4)
KNUST 9 1.8 (1-5)
UG 9 1.7 (1-3)
BSU – Environment and Climate Platform
SUA 2 0.5 (0-1)
UDSM 4 2 responses for each call
KNUST 2 2.5
UG 2 2 responses for one call and no responses for second call

Of the 46 calls that were issued, the response rate varied from 0 to 6. The Frequency is shown in Figure 5, which demonstrates that except for one or two of the calls, number of responses to calls was one or two organisations only, with two of the calls getting no response at all.

Figure 5 Frequency of responses to Calls for Expressions of Interest to implementBSUEG and BSUEC initiatives in Ghana and Tanzania.

Figure 5

One aspect of the BSU institutional capacity development has been to train PhD supervisors (senior researchers) at the Southern partner universities in PhD supervision and teaching. However, based on the experiences from SUA and UDSM the incentives for these senior researchers to attend the training courses implemented through BSU were limited and the opportunity costs to be too high. Researchers were not paid for the time spent in the training sessions organised by BSU, and preferred to spend their time on other activities with better financial rewards, such as consultancy work.

Neither of the participating universities in Tanzania (SUA and UDSM) had plans or resources allocated for implementation of the new PhD courses being supported by BSU, giving further justification to those researchers who could have taken part, but chose not to do so.

Limited attendance in BSU training courses by the Tanzanian researchers and the reluctance of senior Danish researchers to commit themselves to conducting the PhD training courses have made their planning and timing a particular challenge. Some courses have been implemented in the middle of holiday periods in Tanzania and announcements have often been made very late.

The first phase of BSU has mainly involved two types of Danish researchers. Firstly those who would like to establish new links and partnerships with a Southern partner, albeit at a loss in terms of research output and/or time inputs, and secondly those who are already engaged in one or more projects in-country and who could make inputs into BSU with minimal additional costs by piggybacking visits and sharing resources.

Approaches and governance

During the field visit to Tanzania, the BSUEC and BSUGE platforms at SUA and UDSM raised concerns that there had been a tendency among Danish partners to see the BSU as a one-fit-all model, where common themes/subjects had been picked by Danish universities. This was considered unrealistic as the SUA and UDSM have very different needs and are different in terms of size and resources.

In general, not more than half of the working group members have attended regular BSUEC/BSUGE working group meetings at SUA and UDSM. Compared to other programmes, funded by development partners at SUA and UDSM, the BSU provides no or limited financial incentives for the members to attend these meetings[75]. This makes it hard for the BSU to compete in a culture where there is more focus on opportunity costs than on opportunities for upgrading of skills. This is an issue that might have been addressed had there been a more intense process of sensitisation and explanation for southern partners and if they had a broader sense of ownership. The internal contact between the BSUEC and BSUGE working groups at SUA and UDSM has been limited, and has mainly taken place when Danish partners have called for joint meetings/events.

The fact that the BSU operates through two-year contracts has also created difficulties. Being an initiative with the intention of strengthening institutional capacity, the time-frame is too short and has made it impossible to complete planned activities on time, where PhD stipends are required for a minimum of three years.

Operational issues

At the operational level, the objectives of the BSU are unclear and not supported by a logframe with clear and measureable outcome indicators (short-term and long-term). Likewise, the terminology is not well-defined by the BSU, what for example does institutional capacity buildingactually imply? No baseline data have been collected in the partner universities to allow for subsequent assessment of change or impact.

The process of selecting the four Southern partner universities for the BSU has not included a systematic comparative study or assessment of the 10-12 pre-qualified institutions, and although there was intensive discussion and effort[76] in making this selection, there is limited written documentation to justify it; this has been perceived as a lack of transparency by some Southern stakeholders.

The extensive research communication and dissemination skills that have been developed through several years of Danida support to the Networks (in particular DDRN and DWF) have not been integrated into the BSU. Although the reasons for this are not necessarily due to BSU, it represents a missed opportunity for the transfer of relevant learning and capacity skills from one Danida funded development research modality to another.

The current BSU structure makes it difficult for non-participating institutions and stakeholders to become involved in the activities, although technically they are not excluded. It is the case both in Denmark and in the partner countries that BSU is considered by many outsiders to be a rather closed and non-inclusive forum, and this may be necessary for it to remain focussed.

9.4 Efficiency

Although the BSU was discussed at a conceptual level among the Danish universities and Danida over a longer period, the actual planning and design of the operational approach was not based on a thorough assessment of specific needs and conditions within the individual Southern partner universities[77]. As a result of this, interviews with management and staff at both SUA and UDSM confirmed that the BSU Phase 1 activities had been implemented on an ad-hoc basis without clear linkages to current or planned institutional development processes at the universities.

Box 2 Examples of limited collaboration in capacity strengthening[78]

1. Norad is currently funding a large Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation programme (CCIAM), managed through the Norwegian embassy and which is implemented at both SUA and UDSM. This programme focuses on institutional strengthening and involves a number of the same individuals as the BSUEC. However, no institutional collaboration or coordination takes place between the Norad programme and BSU.

2. USAID is also funding a large Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) which aims at strengthening training and collaborative research capacities at SUA. There are no links established between BSU and iAGRI, which has a significant budgetary input into SUA capacity strengthening4 .

Although BSU key stakeholders at both SUA and UDSM considered the BSU to be a useful gap filler, the BSU platforms at these universities are not coordinated or collaborating with other related interventions funded by other development partners within the same universities[79], two examples (see Box 2) serve to illustrate this. Compared with iAGRI and CCIAM at UDSM and at SUA, the BSU is a relatively small intervention in terms of funding levels and time horizon. The physical distance to Danish partners also makes it challenging to support the institutional integration of BSU activities within the Southern partner universities; both the USAID and Norad projects have Tanzania-based development partner contacts. Collaboration between these initiatives is something that SUA and UDSM should be addressing with the BSU members at those institutes.

The administration costs[80] of the BSUEC and BSUGE platforms are both above 25%, including costs for overheads in Denmark and in the South, salaries to administrative staff and audits. This is considerably higher than for the other modalities covered by this Evaluation[81].

The main explanation for the relatively high administrative cost level of the BSU is its very heavy and complex governance structure. The four thematic platforms have each been established with their own Secretariat and a Steering Committee for each platform at each Southern and Northern partner institution. It means that within BSUEC and BSEGE a total of 10 Steering Committees have been operating in Phase 1. This has complicated and slowed down communication and decision making procedures, contributing to serious delays in the implementation of work plans.

In addition, the value-added for the Southern partner institutions of having four different thematic platforms is not obvious, especially as the BSU focus is on strengthening institutional capacity in the South and not on research, often within generic areas.

Under the current structure the workload for BSU administrative staff is high, and staff are working under pressure from both university management and researchers to facilitate the processes. The inappropriateness of the situation is indicated by high staff turnover among BSU Platform Chairs and Coordinators in Denmark, with four out of eight Chairs and Coordinators leaving their posts before the end of Phase 1.

9.5 Impact/Sustainability

The way the BSU was originally designed and implemented during phase 1 questions the ownership and sustainability of the interventions. BSU Phase 1 was mainly designed from Denmark. Guidelines and suggestions were provided by Danish universities on what could probably be funded and what not and the dialogue during Phase 1 has, to a large extent, been driven from Denmark.

The sustainability of the BSU interventions will to a large extent depend on the extent to which it will be possible to mainstream training courses into the curriculum at the Southern partner universities. Based on the consultations at SUA and UDSM, there is currently no commitment from SUA and UDSM management that this will happen.

Due to the short implementation period and lack of baseline data, the Evaluation was unable to identify any impact from the BSU interventions. This lack of relevant baseline information, limited institutional anchorage and fragmented interventions compared to the support of other donors, suggests that impact, and its measurement, in the medium-term is unlikely.

9.6 Conclusions – BSUEC and BSUGE

Design and operation

The idea behind BSU, strengthening institutional and research capacity of Southern universities in key areas by calling on the skills and capacity available in Denmark,is a good one. However the operationalisation of this idea has been flawed, and threatens its immediate and medium-term success.

The lack of systematic assessments of Southern needs, and the ability and appropriateness of Danish organisations to address them, has resulted in a mismatch of demand and supply. Support is limited to seven Danish universities who are not necessarily best-placed to provide the capacity development skills demanded from the South, if they are outside specific academic areas.

For different reasons, the incentives for the majority of senior researchers in the South and Denmark to engage in the process are insufficient to encourage involvement by a broad cohort of potential participants and trainers. This is not a direct fault of the BSU idea, however if it is to succeed, it is an issue which needs to be addressed. It has led to poor levels of participation, except by PhD students who have benefited from specific and highly targeted technical training courses relevant to their degrees. Wider attempts to improve institutional skills and capacity have been less successful due to a lack of integration in Southern university systems.

Ownership and institutionalisation

The ownership and institutionalisation of the BSU initiative within the Southern partner universities has been weak and despite inception workshops and special initiatives there was little evidence that BSU had been, or would be, integrated into Southern institutional plans.

Despite the governance structure BSU has relatively low levels of visibility and the operational funding level per institution, is also significantly less than that available from other development partners with a higher local profile.

Governance structure

The existing BSU governance structure is not appropriate for the aims of BSU, and is both expensive and cumbersome. There were no indications that BSU in its current form will produce any lasting and documentable results within the Southern partner universities.

[68] For example, if the need is for improved institutional capacity for supervising PhD students, there appears little relevance of having it supported through a Growth and Employment Platform.

[69] Building Stronger Universities in Developing Countries – The Platform on Environment and Climate, Application – Description, Activity Plan and Budget. (2011-2013), Danish Universities, April 2011. and%20Climate%20Proposal13052011.ashx

[70] Universities Denmark Growth and Employment – Description, activity plan and budget for Growth and Employment Platform First Phase (2011-2013), Danish Universities, April 2011. Empl%20proposal.ashx.

[71] For example BSU EG aimed, under the low-case funding scenario for one of its StrengtheningPhD Education objective, to complete four baseline and needs assessment reports, develop 12 PhD courses, train 240 PhD students, have 24 faculties able to run courses and train 80 faculty members in PhD supervision. Further details of these can be found in the work plan documents.

[72] Building Stronger Universities in Developing Countries A Program Review Report for UniversitiesDenmark, CMI Commissioned Report David Manyanza (Development Solutions Consultancy) & Johan Helland (Chr. Michelsen Institute), March 2013.

[73] Scientific writing, multivariate analysis.

[74] and

[75] At both universities the chairs of the university platform working groups are receiving up to 60% of the funds allocated to the Platform Coordinators as an incentive to engage with the process. This has been negotiated between Coordinators and Chairs.

[76] See Table A4.3 which represents the mapping that was done of the potential partner institutions. In addition to that, a number of consultations were carried out within the institutions.

[77] For example, the need for parallel support to planning and change management processes within the same institutions.

[78] iAGRI is USD 24 million over five years with 20 PhD and 100 MSc – focussed on SUA and Ministry of Agriculture, addressing Capacity strengthening – training, equipment, vehicles, library, teaching infrastructure; Gender mainstreaming; Skills improvement for newly qualified lecturers; Leadership skills development for senior academic staff running SUA; Strengthening links to five US universities; Working on S-S links (Brazil and India) working through RUFORUM on other African university links. It has permanent staff and a project office based at SUA.

[79] Although on one occasion a course being planned under BSU was cancelled, after discussion with USAID, because a similar larger course was also being run by iAGRI.

[80] Administration costs include budget lines for: Administrative fees; External Audit; Work Platform 5 – Platform governance and management; Overhead South, 7%; Overhead Denmark, 20%.

[81] The FFU projects, Centres and Networks have/had administrative cost levels around 15%.

This page forms part of the publication 'Evaluation of Danida supported Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management 2006-2011' as chapter 12 of 16
Version 1.0. 09-09-2013
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