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Brain Gain: IAEA Organizes Vice Chancellors of African Universities Meeting

More academic programmes in nuclear science and technology must be established, and coherent strategies to curb ‘brain drain’ of African experts must be developed if the full potential of nuclear technology for development is to be maximised in Africa. These were the conclusions of 23 Vice-Chancellors of universities across 16 countries in Africa and representatives of regional and international academic bodies who met from 17 to 19 June in Marrakech, Morocco, to develop practical measures and explore potential collaboration to address regional human resource capacity gaps in this field.

Meeting participants discussed and agreed on collaboration modalities in order to implement new nuclear science and technology graduate and post-graduate academic programmes in accredited universities in Africa.

They also adopted a practical recommendation on future collaboration with UNESCO, the World Academy of Sciences, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) and the Harbin Engineering University (HEU), to increase the number of trained graduates and post-graduates.

The attending Vice-Chancellors agreed to establish a prize to promote the involvement of women in science and technology and to develop a mentorship programme to encourage greater cooperation among the participating universities.

The meeting was hosted by the Government of Morocco through its National Centre for Energy, Sciences and Nuclear Techniques (CNESTEN), and aimed to build upon the achievements of an earlier event held in June 2018.

For many Member States in the Africa region, their application of nuclear science and technologies (NST) is limited by a shortage of qualified professionals, particularly female professionals. This shortage is caused in part by the comparative dearth of nuclear education and training opportunities on the continent—in lieu of continuing their studies at a domestic university, trainees are often forced to rely on foreign academic institutions and on training provided in other regions.

Responding to this need, the IAEA launched a regional technical cooperation (TC) project, within the framework of the AFRA Agreement. A preliminary meeting in 2018 concluded with the launching of a PhD Sandwich Fellowship Programme, whose enrollees are expected to lead NST programmes in tertiary institutions, to promote further research and development, and to contribute to the effective management of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme in Africa.

Opening the meeting on behalf of the Minister of Higher Education of Morocco, Azzedine El Midaoui, President of Ibn Tofail University and President of the Association of Moroccan Universities, highlighted the importance of education and training in nuclear science, and called for the establishment of NST-focused academic programmes in African Member States to enable Africa to train a critical mass of young graduates and to maximize the full potential of nuclear technology for development in the region.

Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Africa, emphasized the importance of developing human resource capacities in Africa as a driving force for the contribution of the peaceful use of nuclear technology for development. He furthermore encouraged the attending Vice Chancellors to support the development of their respective National Human Resources Development Plans, in order to match the growing demand for nuclear-related capacities and to improve the employability of graduates. In addition to these measures, coherent strategies will be required in order to curb the ‘brain drain’ of African experts, explained Director Abdulrazak.

During the meeting, the Vice-Chancellors made country presentations, during which they described the structure and content of their ongoing academic programmes in nuclear science and technology, both at the graduate and post-graduate levels. They also identified the sectors of their national economies which typically recruit these candidates, facilitating the process of developing more market-oriented academic content with which to respond more effectively to emerging demands.

Vice-Chancellors of accredited Universities from the following Member States participated in the meeting: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan.

Representatives of UNESCO, the World Bank, the World Academy of Sciences, the Association of African Universities, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture, the Tunisian Physical Society and HEU also attended.