In a recent successful kick-off meeting, University of Cape Town Associate Professor (UCT) Zarina Patel kicked off the New African Urban University, a one-year project funded by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) Research Development Fund.
Associate Professor Patel, from Department of Environmental Sciences and Geography at the Faculty of Science, is the principal investigator of the project, leading a team of members from nine universities around the world.
The New African Urban University project will forge new partnerships aimed at strengthening the role of African universities in urban change and this will take place in four workshops throughout the year, focused on knowledge exchange and establishment of a program.
Project objectives include achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, strengthening the role of African universities in co-producing urban knowledge to advance SDG 11, committing with the pledge and the potential of African universities to support transdisciplinary research as a means to foster fair and sustainable urban transformations, and to set the agenda for a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the scope of system changes required by universities. in Africa to address the distinctive complexity of urban transitions.
the WUN Research Development Fund is designed to foster research collaborations and help stimulate larger collaborative projects. It provides a rare opportunity for academics to meet and find common ground and differences and to be in a stronger position to bid for larger grants without the pressure of multiple deliverables.
The central role of universities
The project was launched against the background of a global urban focus, as demonstrated by SDG 11, which is to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’, and in the midst of the pandemic of COVID-19 in progress.
âUniversities have a central role to play in generating data and supporting knowledge systems. “
“Given the particularity of African cities and the scarcity of urban knowledge to meet the targets and indicators of SDG 11, universities have a central role to play in generating data and supporting knowledge systems”, Patel said.
She added that increased levels of inequality due to COVID-19 have catalyzed the urgency for universities to exercise their mobilizing power and influence to address urban transformation.
âAfrican universities and academics, individually and collectively, have [contributed] and help shape the urban future through research, committed scholarship [and] consultations, as well as educational, administrative and awareness-raising activities.
âEngaging in urban issues and engaging with actors beyond academia is increasingly common,â Patel said.
Advance, promote, engage
By advancing the idea of ââthe new African urban university, the project engages with the promise and potential of African universities to support transdisciplinary research in order to foster fair and sustainable urban transitions.
“The project serves as an amplifier – by making visible what is already happening – and finding ways to support universities and academic practices, building on the strengths of different comparisons evident in North-South partnerships,” said Patel said.
By fostering a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the system changes required by African universities, this comparative study will develop a distinctive approach to theory and practice, thereby decentralizing the dominant discourses and approaches assumed to be universal in contemporary debates.
âThe project serves as an amplifier – by making visible what is already happening.
Finally, engaging with the promise and potential of the new African urban university, the project focuses on the intersections between three imperatives: urban transformation, alternative forms of knowledge co-production and engaged scholarship / social responsibility. . It falls between three major gaps to advance these three imperatives:
- Gap 1: Understanding the effectiveness and impact of universities in informing urban change in African cities
- Gap 2: Understand how transdisciplinary urban projects with limited time and funding can have long-term impact and be scaled up
- Gap 3: Understanding the system changes required in universities to support transdisciplinary research approaches for sustainable urban transformation.
Over the next few months, the team will co-produce the project scoping and refine the focus of objectives and questions, develop a resource repository, and identify additional partners and networks, funding opportunities and appropriate editors.