The first full-time Director of the ARUA Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Energy, Dr Neill Goosen, started his term in January 2020. Dr Goosen says: “Stellenbosch University is part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) launched in 2015. The ARUA network consists of 16 research intensive African Universities from sub-Saharan Africa, and the network is mobilising to increase the quality and quantity of research done on the continent.
“The ARUA CoE in Energy aims to be a multi- and interdisciplinary platform to foster collaboration at Stellenbosch University and with African partners around the theme of renewable energy, but also aims to link other Stellenbosch University (SU) researchers with possible collaborators in the ARUA network,” he added. “At the Centre we aim to investigate how to best integrate renewable energy into African food systems and value chains in order to address the large climate impact of agriculture, and to increase yields and reduce post-harvest losses of agricultural produce. The Centre will do collaborative research with various African partner universities (both ARUA and non-ARUA universities), and also act as a platform to bring together multidisciplinary teams to address some of the most difficult energy-related developmental problems in Africa.”
Participating countries include South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda an Ethiopia.
In order to facilitate research networks, ARUA identified thirteen research areas that are important for the future development of the continent, and awarded Centres of Excellence (CoE) in these fields to partner universities. In the Natural Sciences CoE’s are in Climate Change, Food Security, Non-Communicable Diseases, Materials Development and Nanotechnology, Water Conservation, Energy, and in the Humanities and Social Sciences the CoE’s are in Mobility and Migration, Poverty and Inequality, Unemployment and Skills Development, Notions of Identity, Good Governance, Post-Conflict Societies and Urbanisation and Habitable Cities.
As member of ARUA, Stellenbosch University actively participates in activities of the alliance with no less than 45 researchers identified in the various research fields. In addition, as part of the governance structure of ARUA, Vice-Chancellors of the partner universities also actively participate in the alliance, with Prof Wim de Villiers (SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor) regularly attending meetings. The coordination and administrative support for the SU ARUA research group is provided by the SU International, through the Centre for Collaboration in Africa (CCA).
In the latter part of 2017, ARUA launched the call for ARUA members to indicate their interest to host the secretariat of a CoE, based on the 13 thematic areas. Following the internal and external evaluation of the applications, it was recommended that SU host the Secretariat of the ARUA Energy CoE. This was ratified at the Vice-Chancellors’ meeting in January 2018, and Profs Johann Görgens and Sampson Mamphweli are appointed as part time co-Directors of the CoE in Energy. During August 2018 the CoE is officially launched during a collaboration meeting in Stellenbosch, bringing together close to 60 African researchers from ARUA member institutions. The workshop resulted in eight consortium-based research concepts dealing with integration of renewable energy in African food value chains, and strengthened partnerships and collaboration between the different institutions. These concepts formed the basis for a number of funding proposals already submitted to funders.
Dr Goosen completed all his studies at Stellenbosch University and holds a BEng, MScEng and PhD in Chemical Engineering. As Director of the ARUA CoE in Energy, he is seated at the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) in the SU Faculty of Engineering.
He elaborates about his task as Director of the Energy CoE: “The CoE is an important vehicle for us to strengthen collaboration with other African Universities, and to do research that leads to real impact. To make such a real impact one requires excellent science (which at Stellenbosch we believe we can deliver, along with our collaborators), but also non-academic partners to make use of the research and to promote it further. It will be my task to build relationships with excellent researchers and to coordinate the CoE’s research agenda, but also to go beyond academia to include other stakeholders in our work, like industry and industry bodies, policy makers, NGOs and civil society. The CoE creates the opportunity and platform to draw in all these different role players and to focus on solving an important problem facing society, and I see some exciting times ahead.”
Photograph: Dr Neil Goosen.