Australia Africa Universities Network draws leaders to Canberra to target security issues and SDGs

Seventy leaders from academia, government, business, the diplomatic corps, development agencies and NGOs from across Africa, Australia and the Indo-Pacific met in Canberra and via Zoom for the 2022 Australia Africa Universities Network (AAUN) Forum on October 27 2022.

Co-hosted by AAUN and the Australian National University (ANU), the on-campus forum explored how to strengthen the teamwork between AAUN, governments, business, alumni, and related diasporas to enable key research and education interventions which would deliver sustainable human and economic development.

The Forum was opened by Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Tim Watts on video. He encouraged the Forum to focus on practical programs where the Australian Government and its agencies could see equal partnerships and sustainable benefits.

The new Australian Federal Government is reviewing national policies in international development, education, security, and defence. The Forum was a venue for building consensus and focus in aspects of these policies, along with the capacities and commitment of AAUN and member universities for relevant education and research.

AAUN has 23 University members (10 Australian, 13 African), with 60 research teams addressing regional and global challenges aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and other regional policy frameworks.

Executive Co-Chair of AAUN Professor John Hearn, said that with just eight years remaining to meet the SDG targets for 2030, there were still extraordinary challenges to address in environment, energy transitions and climate, food and nutrition, public health and pandemics, education and research, evidence-based policy, and financial resources.

“On its 10th anniversary, AAUN is navigating ways to extend its impact, programs and partnerships in engaging with these complex issues, to assist towards a better future for our people and our planet.”

Prof Hearn said that while the Australia-Africa bridge had been weakened by COVID, reduced priority in policy and diminished support in funding under the previous government, the new Australian government had shown some early signs of reversing this decline. AAUN strongly supports such initiative and will assist as much as possible in preparing catalytic research that builds direct knowledge partnerships.

“AAUN and our knowledge partners are committed to reshaping and contributing to national economies and the SDGs – and the COVID challenge has shown how our partnerships, teamwork and communications can win through any obstacles.”

“New national and international support will strengthen our capacity and sustainability – enabling us to target research and training where Australian, African, and broader developmental interests in the Indo-Pacific coincide.”

Prof Hearn said the forum theme of SECURITY had offered participants the chance to think more broadly about the securities in which AAUN engages. These securities include (i) Environment and Agriculture; (ii) Food and Nutrition; (iii) Health and Diseases; and (iv) Education, Employment and Economic Development.

“It is failures in these four areas that fuel the fifth,” he said, “which is Hard Security in migration, terrorism, trafficking, cybercrime, corruption and societal destabilization.”

Several other securities were identified during discussions, including human security, and governance security – with several speakers keen to ensure security was not defined primarily as wars between states, but knowledge to manage multidimensional risk, avert conflict, and build peace.

Forum sessions featured expert commentary and network discussions relating to:

  • Universities and Governments in Development to 2030 (Session 1)
  • University Challenges: Climate, Energy, Pandemics, Democracy, Development (Session 2)
  • Higher Education, Employment, University and Economic Development (Session 3)
  • Environment, Agriculture, Food and Nutrition (Session 4)
  • Security and Defence: migration, terrorism, corruption, defence (Session 5)

A Forum highlight was the announcement of the inaugural cohort of Emerging Leaders in Australia-Africa Diplomacy (ELAAD) Fellows chosen to participate in ELAAD’s pilot online program commencing in November 2022.

ELAAD is a new initiative of Curtin University for the AAUN launched on August 29. The pilot program runs until June 2023.

Closing the Forum, Professor Tawana Kupe, Co-Chair AAUN (Africa) and Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, said universities must make it clear to all stakeholders in society that they carry out challenge-led research, which is intended to contribute to sustainable solutions.

“Translating academic knowledge into knowledge that feeds into policy processes and into practice in our societies is what is going to deliver us the sustainable development goals and create a better world where there is security and justice for all.”

“Today is a milestone,” he said. “The ambition is huge. The resources are not.

“We’ll need to work together to win resources from governments, from universities, and indeed from industry. And we’ll be doing that.

“Our equal partnership is in excellent shape, engaged in mutual challenges, and strengthening our capacity for further success.