TitelCommunity of Learning for Africa (CoLA) – Connecting Young Researchers from Africa and Europe
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsRehm, M, van de Laar, M
Conference NameeLearning Africa 2015
LocationAddis Ababa, Ethiopia
KeywordsCommunity of Learning, PhD Education

In recent years, the demand for and the supply of graduate education has blossomed throughout higher education. While this development can be perceived as beneficial for universities and postgraduate research institutes, an increasing number of scholars have pointed towards the potential challenges it might present. The considerable increase in the amount of graduate education has created difficulties in a system previously accustomed to offering doctoral education to a relatively small set of participants from a confined geographical region (Pearson,1999). Yet, while these developments should have resulted in an change of how doctoral education is designed and facilitated, the vast majority of (European) providers continues to hold on to the conventional picture of doctoral education.
Although this approach has undoubtedly been proven to generate valuable learning outcomes, it also has received a growing amount of criticism. The underlying notion of a regular PhD fellow can no longer be regarded as a fair representation of the actual PhD population. Instead, a new type of PhD (Pearson et al. 2004) exhibits different background characteristics, e.g., with respect to geographical location.
African PhD fellows, who are interested to complete (part of) their research in Europe, cannot always afford to leave their place of residency for prolonged periods of time. Yet, young researchers from African countries might be searching for particular guidance from experts in their field that might not be accessible in their home countries. Consequently, both PhD fellows, as well as universities and postgraduate research institutes require more flexible educational formats that cater for these types of circumstances.
In this context and with the growing availability and potential of online learning tools and methodologies, it is now possible to choose from a wide range of new options to foster the development of PhD fellows (e.g. Chalmers and Keown 2006; Allan and Lewis 2006). More specifically, Communities of Learning (CoL) have emerged as a promising methodology to foster an effective exchange of knowledge and experience among participants (Rehm 2013). Here, participants can collaborate in developing research skills, while at the same time creating a feeling of belonging, which helps individuals to establish personal ties and relations. This in turn has been suggested to positively influence learning outcomes and the overall progress with which PhD research is conducted (Romsdahl and Hill 2012).
The proposed presentation will introduce the research and educational project: Community for Learning for Africa (CoLA). The project is designed and will be implemented by the United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT). The presentation will highlight how CoLA can help participating actors from Africa and Europe to get and stay connected, collaborate in joint training activities and projects, as well as to openly exchange ideas and thoughts, all in relation to underlying PhD research trajectories. The presentation will also offer the first results from the needs assessment undertaken in spring 2015, among PhD fellows and supervisors in Africa as well as the intended activities to be undertaken by CoLA, based on this needs assessment.

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