Birmingham academic training Rwanda’s next generation of researchers.
An academic from Birmingham City University has been working with PhD students at the University of Rwanda to help them advance academic research in the East African country and the wider region.
Senior Lecturer Dr Peter Samuels previously volunteered at UR in 2016 and 2017 before returning in December last year to teach a group of doctoral researchers on a trip made possible with an International Credit Mobility from Erasmus+.
Dr Samuels is based in Birmingham City University’s Centre for Academic Success, which equips students with the skills they need to make the best of every opportunity during their studies. The Centre offers advice on study skills, helps students improve their academic writing and bolsters competencies in maths and statistics in both one-to-one tutorials or group workshops. It was using this model that Dr Samuels was able to assist these African PhD students towards their own academic goals.
In 2016, the World Bank Board approved the award of 24, competitively-selected, African Centres of Excellence for eight countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, with four being based at the University of Rwanda. During his recent visit, Dr Samuels spent time teaching 26 students at one such Centre – the African Center of Excellence for Data Science, based in the College of Business and Economics in the country’s capital Kigali and in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.
The Center is aiming to produce forty academically qualified PhD students from across Eastern and Southern Africa within the next five years. Dr Samuels supported the first cohort with contextualised teaching that is assisting them in formulating project proposals and writing in an academic style, using an objective, evidence-based and formal voice.
Dr Samuels said: “By encouraging scholars in ACE-DS to think differently, it allows them to be more engaging and understand how their research can not only change their lives, but have a positive impact on their country, continent and the wider world. In more established education systems, this is perhaps something that is taken for granted, but in Rwanda a lot of what I was teaching the students had never been shared with them before and it was humbling to see a methodology used back in the UK making an immediate impression on the way they took ownership of their ideas and studies going forward.
“As well as helping them prepare for postgraduate study, we also spent time exploring how one goes about writing for publication and how to maintain a good relationship with their supervisor, which are all important milestones in the development of an outward, globally-conscious academic.”
In the growing and interdisciplinary area of data science, ACE-DS will combine expertise from statistics, economics, business, computer science and engineering to use big data and data analytics to solve some of the 21st century’s biggest challenges across the continent. It aims to serve an important role of helping the region to satisfy the aims of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 by collecting, sharing and analysing data. It will also provide expertise to measure and monitor the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals and the African aspirations for 2063.
Reflecting on Dr Samuels’ course, one student commented: “Before attending the course, I knew little about academic writing, especially for journal papers. Throughout the course I learnt a lot in terms of critical thinking and analysis, paragraph writing through structured arguments and how to use different argument styles. In addition, I learnt how to use evidence properly in academic writing.
“Furthermore, I practiced a lot all the tips and guidance from the course to improve my PhD research proposal and I have seen a big improvement and difference in my academic writing before and after the course. You could say that I am a completely different person in terms of academic writing.”
Dr Samuels’ third trip to the University of Rwanda took place in December 2017. He also visited the African Centre of Excellence for Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science at the institution’s Rukara Campus in the east of the country, and plans to work more with this Centre on future visits.
Incidentally, the Vice-Chancellor of UR is Birmingham-born Professor Phil Cotton, a former GP and Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners. As well as his role at UR, Professor Cotton is a Methodist Preacher, founding chair of a Scottish fair trade organisation and Board member of several development charities working in Africa. Last year, Professor Cotton was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to education in Rwanda.