Prof Dr Margret Wintermantel is the President of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), one of the most visible funding organisations worldwide for the international exchange of students and researchers. She spoke to Hashtag about the organisation’s success in the region.
What was your March trip to Kenya all about?
I was the chief guest for a conference titled, ‘Young Scholars in Africa – Challenges and Opportunities’. The DAAD had invited 150 young scholars, most of them DAAD-Alumni, from 23 African countries, including Kenya, to discuss the challenges they are facing and their ideas on how to better support scholarly careers and promote innovative science and research ‘made in Africa’.
Were your objectives met?
I am happy that we were able to raise awareness. All African countries aim at becoming middle-income countries and knowledge societies.
In this context, rising numbers of researchers, academic teachers and academically trained professionals are urgently needed.
However, the ‘production’ of PhD holders is far below necessity and there is little relevant research for the development agendas. This needs to change.
We offered a platform for initiatives and projects, governmental as well as non-governmental, geared towards supporting capacity building in science, research and development.
Finally, the conference threw a light on the importance of international collaboration in research and PhD training and the role of DAAD as a leading global player in this regard.
What is Daad all about and how beneficial is it to the Youth in Kenya?
We are an organisation of German universities promoting international collaboration through scholarships and cross-border projects.
Our headquarters is in Bonn, and we maintain a global network of regional offices. It has been 45 years since we established our presence in Kenya.
Our scholarships for Master’s and PhD programmes in Germany are highly prestigious. Equally attractive are our in-region scholarships.
They enable students from Sub Saharan Africa to enroll in top universities and research institutions for graduate training in Eastern Africa.
In addition, we are funding collaboration and exchange projects of German universities in conjunction with their Kenyan counterparts.
So far, several thousand Kenyans have been supported by these schemes.
The DAAD-alumni have formed a vibrant association, the Kenya DAAD Scholars Association (KDSA), which is represented at all major universities.
They uphold close contacts with the DAAD and Germany and receive support for conducting conferences, for the procurement of research equipment and for further research stays at German Universities.
Are many Kenyans enrolling for Science courses under Daad?
In 2017, the number of Kenyans supported under DAAD amounted to 853, whereas 223 Germans received funding for shorter or longer stays at Kenyan Universities.
Our scholarship programmes attracts Masters and PhD candidates in all fields of science and in the humanities, but most Kenyans apply in Natural Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture and IT. Although Germany is one of the top destinations worldwide for international students, it is not yet very popular with Kenyans at the undergraduate level.
Through our Nairobi office, we spread the message of Germany being a top destination for study and research; our universities are offering top quality programmes, some of them in English, with a strong focus on science and technology. In most parts of the country, fees are non-existent.
How is the partnership developing academic capacity of our universities?
As far as our collaboration with Kenya is concerned, we are, since 45 years, contributing significantly to capacity building in higher education.
On an individual level by scholarships and training opportunities either in Germany or in the East African region. On an institutional level by supporting German-Kenyan University collaboration.
At Moi University, for instance, we support a Centre of Excellence for Educational Research Methodologies and Management.
At Taita Taveta University we fund a German-Kenyan Centre of Excellence for Mining, Environmental Engineering and Resource Management.
What are the challenges of being president of one of the world’s largest academic grant organisation?
I am convinced that the world needs experts who can deal with the central questions of humanity and sustainable development and are able to conduct research in these fields.
This is only possible in an international context. It is certainly a challenge to devote the same attention to all projects but we work together with our international partners to pursue our goals. Awarding scholarships to the best is one of the DAAD’s strategic fields of action.
By selecting our scholarship holders on a highly selective basis, we promote specialist expertise that can unfold its full effect over several decades of an academic career. In future, our alumni work will also be geared even more strongly to the establishment and expansion of specialist networks. We still see great potential here.
Your parting shot?
I enjoyed my visit to Kenya and was particularly impressed by the dynamics and creativity of the youth I had the privilege to meet at our conference. I found them capable and determined to bring about change.
I see more and more young women taking the lead. They need a supportive education system in order to fully develop their potential.
I am deeply convinced that the functioning of higher education and research depends on creating a win-win-situation: Universities in this continent need a substantial increase in funding, be it by governments or private investors.
At the same time, the society would be entitled to demand adequate outputs: Research in line with development agendas, teaching in line with labour market requirements.
My organisation, the DAAD, and our German universities, will continue to promote these goals in our collaboration with Kenya.