‘Areas of mutual interest’: U of T looks at ways to further deepen its ties with African universities and partners

Group photo taken at meeting with AAU
A nine-member delegation from U of T recently visited various higher education institutions in South Africa, Botswana and Ghana. The trip focused on ways U of T can partner with universities and organizations across the continent (Submitted photo)

One of the major highlights for Efosa Obano (UTSC BBA 2018) on a recent trip to Ghana was getting to meet in person with a small group of young African entrepreneurs for the first time.

The entrepreneurs — three Ashesi University students from three separate start-ups — are all connected to Obano through the African Impact Challenge, a pitch and incubation program he helped start with fellow African U of T students in 2020.

“These start-ups are all doing amazing work,” says Obano, who was also joined by Dave Fenton, assistant director of external relations in the department of management at U of T Scarborough.

“It’s been incredible seeing these companies grow from incubation right to the point where they are making a significant impact in their communities.”

Efosa Obano and Dave Fenton meet with representative from Emergency Response Africa
Efosa Obano (left) and Dave Fenton (right) meet with Ashesi University alum Maame Poku who co-founded Emergency Response Africa, a healthcare technology company in Nigeria. Emergency Response Africa was supported by the African Impact Initiative (submitted photo)

Obano and Fenton were part of a nine-member delegation from U of T that recently visited various higher education institutions in South Africa, Botswana and Ghana. The trip centred on ways U of T can partner with universities and organizations across the continent on three main areas of interest: student and faculty mobility; research collaborations; and entrepreneurship.

Professor Wisdom Tettey, U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough, says many of the topics were first discussed last summer when various diplomats, scholars and African academic leaders visited U of T. The trip offered a chance to follow-up on many of those topics with concrete actions, while also exploring new areas for further collaboration.

“Our primary goal was to strengthen and expand our existing relationships, but also cultivate new ones in areas of mutual interest,” says Tettey.

“We’re approaching our relationship with African universities through a lens of true partnership, one driven by co-creation and co-learning. There are so many opportunities for U of T students and faculty to collaborate with peers in Africa through student exchanges, collaborative research projects as well as courses and conferences, just to name a few.”

Tettey points to work being done by African researchers on climate change, energy and trans-border issues surrounding water management, similar to what is playing out between Canada and the United States, as a prime example for potential research collaborations.

Diplomats and scholars from Africa join U of T colleagues to talk about shared aspirations and priorities

Alexie Tcheuyap, associate vice-president and vice-provost, international student engagement, says another avenue for collaboration is through U of T’s Global Classroom Initiative, which allows faculty to work closely with peers abroad and connect classrooms in different parts of the world for co-teaching using online tools.

“With their institutional and infrastructural resources, South Africa, Botswana and Ghana offer exceptional and unique opportunities for students and faculty mobility in a changing global world,” says Tcheuyap.

Bill Gough, U of T Scarborough’s vice-principal academic and dean who was also part of the delegation, adds there is potential for greater opportunities for experiential learning in international development and co-op placements for U of T students as well.

The 19-day trip, which finished in April, included meetings with delegates from the University of Cape Town, the University of Western Cape, the University of Botswana, Ashesi University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the African Research Universities Alliance, among others.

The Office of the Vice-President, International already has a team working in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa to facilitate diverse collaborative initiatives between the university and its African partners, notes Penina Lam, U of T’s director of international relations, Africa.

Professor Wisdom Tettey shakes hand with Professor David Norris
Professor Wisdom Tettey shakes hands with Professor David Norris, vice chancellor, University of Botswana after signing an MOU (Photo by Setshwano Moaisi, University of Botswana)

Carlos Vargas, U of T Scarborough’s director of international and global engagement, says an important highlight of the trip was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between the University of Botswana and U of T Scarborough. Another was an MOU that U of T signed with the AAU, an organization that advocates for African higher education with more than 400 member institutions. 

Both of these agreements will help guide future collaborations in a range of areas including joint research collaborations, undergraduate and graduate student exchanges and internships, entrepreneurship-based training, joint conferences, seminars and graduate student training, among others, adds Irena Creed, U of T Scarborough’s vice-principal, research and innovation. 

In a bid to promote global ‘brain circulation,’ U of T expands partnerships with African universities

Obano, a Nigerian-born U of T Scarborough business grad, says he learned a lot through the first-hand conversations he had with academic leaders about the strategy African universities have for the role entrepreneurship can play in economic development. Many of the conversations he had centred around the incubator model of U of T’s world-renowned entrepreneurship ecosystem.

He’s also mindful of the importance of promoting “brain circulation” as a core philosophy in partnering with African universities.

“Our motivation isn’t a brain drain — we don’t want to pluck talented entrepreneurs away from Africa and bring them to U of T or Canada,” says Obano, who is also manager of U of T’s Black Founders Network.

“There are things that are working well here and there are things that are working well in Africa. Our goal is brain circulation — we want to leverage the best of both and learn from one another.”