The African Economic Research Consortium’s highly acclaimed Joint Facility for Electives (JFE) got off to an inspiring start on July 6, 2012 at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies (KSMS). The official opening was done by Mr. Joseph Kinyua, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Kenya. There are a total of 108 students, 60 on the Collaborative Master’s Programme (CMAP) and 48 on the Collaborative PhD Programme (CPP) – drawn from 20 African nationalities. In his welcome address to the students, Prof. Kinandu Muragu, the Executive Director of the KSMS said the school was honoured to host the JFE programme. He, however, wondered why with all such brains congregated at the school, Africa was not doing well in terms of development. “Perhaps we need to develop a model on this to better understand African countries,” he joked. Prof. Muragu told the JFE gathering that the facility also hosts other students, with whom they can interact and share experiences.
Dr. Innocent Matshe, the AERC Director of Training emphasized that it is always an honour to participate in building something great for one’s continent; and building capacity is one of those things. “When you build capacity, you are building something that will last forever; when you build a house, you are building something that will last a century,” he noted adding that it is capacity building that will transform this continent. He urged the Master’s students to strive to move upwards after completion of their programme. And for the PhD students, he urged them to endeavor to progress to higher echelons of policy making, stressing that there is no continent as endowed as Africa and capacity building is key for economic growth. He cautioned the PhD students that time was of the essence and they should start work on their theses proposals as soon as they can.
And on his part, Prof. William Lyakurwa, AERC Executive Director, gave the students a brief history of the JFE, which he spearheaded in 1993 and started with 58 Master’s students. He said a lot of gains have been made on the programme as it continues build capacity and engage the minds of the students. He urged the students to take advantage of the robust AERC network, which has been built over the years to gain more experience. AERC has worked with these network members to publish many volumes which are available on the website. AERC takes pride of the JFE and ensures that the students get the best in terms of facilities and lecturers, he told them.
In his address, the PS, Mr. Kinyua, congratulated AERC for the foresight of the collaborative training programmes, commending the Consortium’s mission to increase the pool of professional economists through research and graduate training in economics. “This success is a showcase in the continent and beyond, which has enhanced capacity of African researchers to conduct policy-relevant economic enquiry in their own countries and promote the retention of such capacity in African institutions.”
Mr. Kinyua pointed out that there are various binding and non-binding challenges that have dimmed Africa’s economic and structural transformation such as lack of visionary leadership at all levels, weak governance and institutions, failure to remain faithful to articulated development roadmaps, infrastructure and energy deficiency, poor investment in modern agriculture, less focus on small scale enterprise, scanty resources for research and development, and low investment in human capital among others.
“Addressing these challenges requires bold and visionary leadership at all levels, and this is why I started by commending the AERC management for being faithful and staying the course of the programmes as was set many years back and improving to adopt new developments for better results,” said the PS.
He encouraged the AERC stakeholders to take ownership of capacity building in the continent and support the institution. AERC has done an amazing work with meager resources, largely from the donor community and it is time African Governments and agencies support what has proved to be noble objectives of building capacity for African economists, said Mr. Kinyua. He observed that the Government of Kenya has played a leading role in funding the AERC for capacity building in the public sector through graduate training in policy and research. In this year’s JFE, 11 CMAP and 13 CPP students are being sponsored by the Government of Kenya.
The JFE is the largest congregation of graduate students from sub-Saharan Africa and over 40 highly qualified lecturers and professors, majority of them from Africa, are teaching the CMAP and CPP courses at the facility. The bringing together of students from different nations in one facility allows the formation of networks among African scholars that become extremely valuable even after the students have completed their studies. This is an “African Union” of its own kind because when the students leave this facility; they will have made everlasting academic and social relationships with colleagues from other parts of Africa.
The JFE is an annual 14–16-week residential training programme that serves both CMAP and CPP by bringing instructors and students from AERC network universities to one facility to sit a commonly agreed set of elective courses. Designed to address capacity problems in participating universities, the JFE is a key component of AERC’s collaborative training concept. The intensive programme presents a selection of high quality courses that are generally beyond the capacity or existing demand of the participating universities. A major advantage of the approach is that it makes it possible to recruit outstanding scholars from the region and overseas to teach the courses. The idea is to ensure that the programmes’ high standards are maintained, as well as to provide a mutually enriching environment. It is this last component that forms one of most significant professional benefits, especially for the students.
To participate in the JFE students must have successfully completed the core courses at their respective universities. Once the electives are mastered, students return to their institutions for thesis research, any necessary fieldwork and comprehensive exams. The CPP students present their thesis proposals and results during AERC’s biannual research workshops. JFE students, who are usually mid-career policy practitioners or researchers, return to their positions in government or research institutes. To date AERC has supported over 2,000 and 200 students through CMAP and CPP respectively.