Specialists in every ministry and organisation in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should be trained on climate change adaptation and mitigation, Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka of the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) has said.
Universities, therefore, need to introduce programmes on climate change to increase capacity.
This could ensure communities are well informed on issues of climate change and that they have survival skills, Prof Lotz-Sisitka said in a presentation at the Southern African Regional Universities Association’s (SARUA) eighth colloquium on climate change held virtually on June 22.
The colloquium is part of SARUA’s regional universities programme on climate change that was initiated by SADC university vice-chancellors in 2010.
Prof Lotz-Sisitka said SADC faced short-term and long-term climate change crises, but the higher education sector was responding too slowly.
“A university master’s degree in climate change will create a feeder mechanism for more PhDs and more informed policy responses over time,” she said. “A master’s degree seems to be a key curriculum innovation point for further development, especially via partnerships with universities that already have such degrees, and those that are ready to or in the process of developing these.”
She added that e-learning approaches and shared courseware are additional important strategies for curriculum innovation.
The SARUA climate change programme is entering a new phase as part of the Intra-ACP Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) Programme in SADC.
The aim of the programme is to enhance the climate adaptive capacity and resilience of the SADC region through developing a collaborative network of higher education institutions capable of pooling resources, maximising the value of its intellectual capital and attracting significant investment to the region.
In her presentation on the SARUA curriculum development process, Sunita Facknath, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Mauritius, said that, in 2016, SARUA developed a delivery consortium for a master’s degree on climate change and sustainable development involving seven universities across five countries: Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, University of Mauritius, the Open University of Tanzania and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, the University of Namibia, the University of Cape Town, and Rhodes University in South Africa.
The consortium developed a master’s programme in climate change and sustainable development that focused on three core areas: introduction to climate change science and policy, transdisciplinary research and skills, and climate resilient development.
“These core areas are aligned with SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) 4 (quality education) and 13 (climate action). They were divided into four electives – agriculture, food security and climate change; climate change and ecosystems services; climate change and urban development; and climate change and social justice,” Prof Facknath said.
The guiding principles were innovation, an integrated socio-ecological systems perspective, new research, state of the art technology, inter- and trans-disciplinary possibilities, relevance, and contextualisation with an emphasis on knowledge, skills, and competencies.
Mulungushi University (Zambia) and Bindura University of Science Education (Zimbabwe) offer the full programme; while the University of Dodoma (Tanzania), University of Mauritius, the University of eSwatini, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Malawi) and Copperbelt University (Zambia) offer parts of it.
For example, Prof Facknath said, the University of Mauritius offers a two-year part-time master’s degree in climate change and sustainable development with in-service programmes. The student intake is mixed and includes government officials, researchers, activists and teachers with backgrounds in agriculture, science, economics, and geography. The programme includes coursework and a research project and a dissertation in the final year.
Students choose between two electives: climate change, agriculture and food security, or climate change and urban development.
She said the main challenge was getting a resource person for the module “transdisciplinary thinking and skills”. According to Prof Facknath, this module is intensive and difficult, but students voted it the most popular.
Prof Faknath said the University of Mauritius experienced several challenges. These included an insufficient number of staff engaged in teaching the curriculum, limited training for trainers, a slow institutional approval process for new programmes, delays in shifting from traditional approaches, difficulty in finding supervisors due to large numbers of students, and access to or engaging with learning materials online.
Other universities in the region also experienced barriers to implementation. Among the problems reported were conflict among different departments or faculties, academics who could not agree on whether to adopt the curriculum or how to adjust the existing curriculum, insufficient resources, and expertise needed, and delays in getting the programme accredited.
Prof Facknath said that, to implement the programme, support is needed on several levels. Universities should have teaching capacity and financial support to recruit external human resources, and funding for seminars to learn from other institutions that have adopted the programmes. Students also need scholarships.
She recommended that SARUA should create a database of potential human resources, supervisors, guest lecturers and external examiners on a diverse range of topics in the curriculum.
The organisation should also create a repository of resource materials and make it available to all students and academics in the implementing universities. Best practices, experiences and lessons learned should be shared.
Prof Martin Oosthuizen, Executive Director of SARUA, said the focus areas for the climate change programme are on higher education in the SADC region, knowledge co-production, institutional quality management, and the digital transformation of higher education. The aim is to strengthen the capacity of SADC member states to undertake regional and national adaptation and mitigation actions.
“We intend to enhance the capacity of the region’s universities to support member states, strengthen the capacity of SADC universities in the provision of research and education services in support of climate change adaptation and mitigation,” Prof Oosthuizen said.
SARUA’s targeted programme outcomes include an SADC climate change capacity development network of universities revitalised over a two-year period, active in contributing to member state capacity development for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies; establishing an SADC-wide e-learning and collaboration environment (a digital academic ecosystem) with pilot e-learning of at least two modules of SARUA’s master’s curriculum; and short courses implemented over a two-year period.
Prof Oosthuizen said SARUA was expected to commence a regular programme on climate change communication in July 2021. All regional stakeholders are welcome to participate in SARUA’s network activities. – University World News