Address at the Australia Africa Universities Network (AAUN) Forum, Perth

Good afternoon. First, my thanks to Professor John Hearn and Professor Prem Ramburuth for your leadership and a warm welcome to Professor Dhanjay Jhurry, President of the University of Mauritius.

I have very much been looking forward to speaking about UNSW’s partnership with Gulu University in Uganda. I fell in love with Africa in 1983 in my early twenties, I travelled to work in Kenya as a medical student.

20 years later, as Director of an Institute at University college London, that trip as a student inspired me to set up the Uganda Women’s Health Initiative which conducted work in education, neonatal resuscitation, prevention of postpartum haemorrhage, and cervical cancer screening. I don’t have a picture of my first visit to Kenya in 1983 but this is the first visit to Kampala with colleagues in 2005 to set up the Uganda Women’s Health Initiative.

I have been back many times since to pursue this work and when I arrived at Sydney a decade later, I was delighted to have the opportunity to establish new links between UNSW and Uganda.

In 2016, UNSW signed a MOU with Gulu University to enable both institutions to advance mutually beneficial opportunities. This partnership will be the topic of my talk today.

But before I talk about the UNSW-Gulu partnership a brief diversion to ask ‘Why Africa is important to Australia, and Australian universities?’ This is an interesting topic for me, because while I have had a long-standing connection with Africa, I am relatively new to Australia.

It surprises me that Australia doesn’t place a stronger strategic emphasis on Africa. Australia looks north, to Asia, and that trend goes right back through the history of the Colombo Plan.

But geographically, the distance between Perth and Nairobi is almost exactly the same as from Sydney to Beijing – about 9,000km. Yet for some reason Africa seems much more remote.

Of course, as we have heard this morning in the context of Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, the strategic importance of the African continent is being noticed. The opportunities for trade and foreign investment are enormous, as Australian companies such as Rio Tinto have recognised.

Africa’s combined population of 1.2 billion is expected to double between now and 2050, alongside an ever-expanding middle class.

One big opportunity for Africa/Australia links is through higher education. Of course, everyone here knows this!

Education mitigates disadvantage, diminishes poverty, and facilitates equality, empowerment and economic growth. On so many levels Australia and African nations stand to benefit from a closer relationship.

So I am delighted UNSW’s partnership with Gulu University is an important aspect of our new Institute for Global Development. Just two years old, following an MoU in 2016, the partnership has completed four successful pilot projects.

First, the Transformative Academic Development Program, led by today’s Chair, UNSW’s Professor Prem Ramburuth. The objective of the program is to help Gulu achieve its goal of becoming the leading university in Northern Uganda.

In just two years, the project has:
• delivered the UNSW Beginning to Teach and Foundations of Teaching and Learning programs to 12 teaching staff at Gulu;
• delivered a Train-the-Trainer program for these lead teachers to train all staff at Gulu to; and
• enabled the Institute of Digital Education Africa, to work with Gulu on online education planning.

We have also:
• established a Leadership program for senior staff at Gulu;
• worked with the UNSW and Gulu libraries; and
• developed infrastructure for a Gulu Quality Assurance and Academic Governance System.

There are now plans with the Ugandan Ministry of Education to extend to other universities in Uganda, and perhaps then further afield in Africa.

Also planned with women academics at Gulu and other universities in South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana, is a ‘Gender Empowerment in the Workplace in Africa’ project – with the assistance of seed funding from the AAUN Research Grant.

I note that this work is being undertaken in close collaboration with the Ugandan High Commissioner in Canberra, Her Excellency Professor Joyce Kikafunda, who we are delighted to have here today.

The second project is our Peace and Conflict Project, led by UNSW’s Associate Professor Anne Bartlett.

Last year, 20 of our UNSW students worked on a community research project to better understand common antecedents of conflict and identify mitigation strategies. This led to joint publications between UNSW and Gulu, and UNSW academics supervised Gulu masters students.

The third project is our Engineering and Science Summer Exchange Program, another great success story, which has been led by UNSW’s Associate Professor Julian Cox.

Its first phase last year saw 10 UNSW Engineering students visit Uganda to undertake agri-business placements alongside Gulu students.

The second phase saw nine Gulu students come to UNSW in June, and undertake industry and farm visits in regional NSW.

These exchanges are about subject matter, of course, but they are equally about forming life-long links across cultures. Joining the UNSW and Gulu students during their time together in Uganda and then in Australia was a thrill for me. I know from my career that these experiences really stay with you.

The fourth project, is the UNSW/Gulu Community Engagement in Health Project. This is one I am closest to given my medical background. I am proud of what has been achieved, under the leadership of Dean of Medicine at Gulu, Dr Felix Kaducu and UNSW’s Professor Robyn Richmond.

One of the priority areas identified early on was cancer screening. Cervical cancer, for example, is entirely preventable but it is a leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

Ugandan women have a high mortality rate. In Australia, incidence of cervical cancer is 7 cases per 100,000 women with a mortality rate of just 2 deaths per 100,000 women. In Uganda, it is 44.4 per 100,000 women, with a mortality of 27.2 per 100,000 women.

We identified this as a major challenge our partnership could contribute to addressing.

• cancer screening clinics have been set up at five health centres in northern Uganda. In the first six months, more than 1000 women were screened for cervical and breast cancer;
• women have been detected with pre-cancerous cervical lesions and treated on-site; and
• 30 local health centre nurses and midwives have participated in cancer screening training.

We are also supporting UNSW and Gulu academics to undertake research on reproductive health and domestic violence among women in rural northern Uganda – two joint publications are ready for submission.

And I was thrilled to formalise the project going forward when I met with State Minister for Primary Health, Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, and the Dean of Medicine at Gulu University, Dr Felix Kaducu in July.

A tripartite arrangement for the next phase of the Transforming Community Health project is being explored between UNSW, Gulu University and the Ministry of Health in Uganda.

So, what is next?

In Uganda, we will continue the four projects I have outlined today, as well as expanding our work with the Makerere University School of Optometry.

We will also assess the feasibility of delivering Gulu’s current Master of Public Health Program as blended – partly face-to-face and partly online.

This is a very exciting time for UNSW and our fledgling partnerships in Africa. I’m very much looking forward to seeing these projects continue to grow. Thank you.

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