The MalDent Project is presented at the UUKI International Higher Education Forum 2021

A few weeks ago I was privileged to be invited to participate in a breakout session at this year’s Universities UK International Higher Education Forum. I am very grateful to Professor Paul Garside, our Dean of Global Engagement (Middle East & Africa) at the University of Glasgow, who had suggested to the organisers that the MalDent Project would be a suitable example of a capacity building collaboration between a UK HEI and a university in a low-income country.

The conference took place on 13-14 April 2021.

The MalDent Project presentation was part of the following breakout session:

The session was chaired by Professor Richard Follett, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Associate Vice President (International), at the University of Sussex. There were three 10 minute presentations, followed by a discussion between Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive & Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Professor Follett.

The first presentation was delivered by Professor Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary-General of the African Research Universities Alliance. I had heard Professor Aryeetey speak previously in Glasgow at the ‘Capacity Strengthening in Africa Symposium on 28 February 2020, when an MOU was signed between the University of Glasgow and the African Research Universities Alliance.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow and Professor Aryeetey signing the MOU

Professor Aryeetey laid out very clearly the importance of the higher education sector in African countries and provided clear insights into ways in which UK HEIs could provide support.

At the outset, he delivered three main messages:

He then spoke about the fundamental importance of investment in Africa’s higher education sector, with a particular emphasis on partnerships and collaboration:

The significant value of international research collaborations was illustrated in a slide that demonstrated how research outputs in least developed countries were increased significantly by working together:

Prof Aryeetey developed this theme further, stressing the importance of international partnerships to strengthen HEIs in Africa:

He looked at various options, some of which resonated very strongly with ongoing interactions between the University of Glasgow and the University of Malawi College of Medicine:

Professor Aryeetey’s concluding slide gave a very clear steer on how ARUA viewed the way forward:

Our presentation on the MalDent Project was the second of the 10 minute presentations. Those who follow our blog will be very familiar with the various components of the work stream and the progress we have made to date. Our contribution to the meeting was to provide an illustration of an ongoing partnership between a UK HEI and a university in a low-income country, with a focus on capacity-building.

The question I was asked to address was:

What are the mutual benefits of partnerships such as the MalDent Project and why should UK universities be supported financially to implement projects such as this?

One of the main capacity building successes of the MalDent Project to date has been the establishment of Malawi’s first Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree programme, based at the University of Malawi College of Medicine:

Malawi’s first ever BDS students at the launch of the degree course in August 2019

However, this is only one element of a much broader programme, which includes work to develop a national oral health policy, with an emphasis on disease prevention. The strong collaboration between the University of Glasgow and the University of Malawi College of Medicine is under-pinning developments that are of direct value and interest to the citizens of Malawi.

Simultaneously, the partnership brings significant value to the University of Glasgow, in the context of its vision in the 2025 strategy to be The World Changing University:

The basis of the established interaction between the University of Glasgow and the University of Malawi College of Medicine embraces three key principles, which I was keen to highlight:

In the context of the MalDent Project, it was our Malawian colleagues who sought advice with issues relating to oral and dental health in their country. In turn, we responded by developing in partnership the work programme that forms the basis of the Maldent Project. In doing so, we have established strong bonds of respect and trust, which have been, and continue to be, essential to our ongoing progress.

The partnership working has expanded far beyond the two central HEIs involved, as I demonstrated in a slide towards the end of the talk. Links with government, professional and civic organisations, charities, NGOs and the broader health sector are critical and illustrate the point that Professor Aryeetey was making about the centrality of strengthening Africa’s HEIs for the common good. Universities carry a major civic responsibility, both locally and globally, a duty which activities like the MalDent Project illustrate very clearly.

The network of partners involved in the MalDent Project

Finally, I was very keen to thank the Scottish Government for its tremendous support of the Maldent Project. It is true to say that without the financial backing of the £1.3m grant from the Scottish Government Malawi Development Funding Round 2018, virtually none of what has been achieved would have been possible. It, therefore, seemed very apt to close with a photograph of Ben Macpherson MSP, former Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, on a visit to the Lilongwe campus of the University of Malawi College of Medicine, when we had the privilege of explaining our work and showing how the Scottish Government investment was being used.

(L to R): Jeremy Bagg, Peter Chimimba (College of Medicine MalDent Project Lead), Ben Macpherson MSP and Mwapatsa Mipando (College of Medicine Principal)

The final 10 minute presentation was delivered by Mostafa Al-Mossallami, who is the lead adviser on higher education and skills at the UK Government Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). He talked about the Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme , which aims to strengthen higher education in focus countries to better meet the needs of students, employers and societies. His talk spoke to the question:

‘How is SPHEIR supporting universities in low-income countries to contribute to national development and what role does the FCDO see for higher education in the longer term for global development?’

The breakout session closed with a very interesting discussion between Dr Joanna Newman and Professor Follett on some of the issues raised in the three presentations, giving consideration to whether the newly created FCDO should invest in higher education reform and, if so, why.

It was a really enjoyable 60 minutes. For any of you who would like to view the session in its entirety, it can be accessed below:

Many thanks to UUKI team members Richard Grubb (Senior Policy Officer, sub-Saharan Africa & International Development) and Anna Zvagule (Communications Officer) who briefed us all very fully and ensured that the technical aspects ran smoothly.

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