Eight lecturers in the William Richard Tolbert College of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Liberia are expected to depart the country to pursue Doctorate degrees in different specialized courses at various universities in Africa.

The lecturers, who are all full-time employees of the university, were each awarded three years’ scholarship by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) following a vigorous and transparent vetting of all applicants that were recommended by the College of Agriculture and Forestry. They will enroll in some of Africa’s outstanding universities, including the Makerere University in Uganda, the Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the Jomo Kenyatta University in Kenya and the Copperbelt University in Zambia.

The beneficiaries of the scholarship are T. Arwailayah Freeman, William S. Kollie, Jr., Henry T. Nyuma, Sonnie Kesselley, Emmanuel M. Pope, Lovetta Gleekia-Kerkula, Jerry Yekeh and Albertha Mulbah. They are to earn their doctorate in fields such as Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Plant Nutrition, Soil Fertility Management, Food Safety and Nutrition, Crop Production, Horticulture Sciences, Forest Conservation and Forest Ecology.

RUFORUM is a network of universities in Africa that offers programs in Agriculture. It has a membership of many countries, including Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi and Mozambique with headquarters in Kampala, Uganda. The rationale of the scholarship is to focus on Agriculture as a major inter-growth to get universities more involved in development. In essence, the objective of the regional Agriculture Organization is to ensure that universities that are offering Agriculture Programs be more efficient by developing the capacity of young men and women in member universities to play critical roles in the development of Agriculture.

RUFORUM envisions a vibrant agricultural sector linked to African Universities, which produce high-performing graduates and high-quality research responsive to the demands of Africa’s farmers for innovations and able to generate sustainable livelihoods and national economic development. Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) boosts human resource capacity for the transformation of Agriculture. It also seeks to strengthen and grow a pool of competent and relevant human resource to accelerate agro-food system transformation.

“Thanks to Dr. Ophelia Weeks, who when I informed her about the Forum and the opportunities that the UL can also receive for being a member, officially suggested that we form part of the organization. So in October, 2017, I travelled to Malawi to represent the University during their annual general meeting. It was not only an opportunity for the UL, but the nation as a whole,” Dr. Moses Zinnah, Dean of the College of Agriculture & Forestry, said.

According to Dr. Zinnah, the University of Liberia became a member of the RUFORUM in October 2017, through UL President, Dr. Ophelia I. Weeks, when she formally requested him (Dr. Zinnah) to attend RUFORUM’s Annual General Meeting in Malawi.

During that meeting, Dr. Zinnah said there were many conversations held between the UL representative and RUFORUM Secretariat at which time the Forum asked the UL to assess itself and identify some of the critical areas that the forum can support.

Dr. Zinnah also noted that in consultation with authorities, including the offices of the UL President, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Vice President for Institutional Development and Planning, it was realized that the building of the human resource capacity of the faculty could be a good point to start with.

Dr. Zinnah also justified that currently, more than 50% of the teaching staff work as part-timers, and given Dr. Weeks’ vision to place the University of Liberia among the first 20 best universities in West Africa in seven years, it would become almost impossible to achieve this goal if half of the teaching staff are part-timers.

“You will note that the vision of Dr. Weeks in seven years is to place the UL among the top 20 universities in West Africa. This cannot be achieved with part-time professors, of whom most are aging. Fifty percent of the lecturers are in their mid-fifties, early sixties and some are even seventy and eighty years old. To be in the top 20s, you need new thinking; young men and women that will run this College and we, the older folks, can provide back-up support in terms of having some Master degrees and provide supervision while the young folks drive the process,” Dr Zinnah said.

Following Dr. Zinnah’s visit from Malawi, the university requested some help to build the capacity of the faculty in the College of Agriculture and was fortunate that RUFORUM agreed to offer at least a minimum of eight Graduate-Teaching-Assitanceship.

 

He outlined the different benefits from RUFORUM, indicating that, “With the more than 80 universities forming part of RUFORUM, there are some universities that have huge capacities that normally offer opportunities to provide bright men and women opportunities to do their PhD Degrees under the Graduate-Teaching-Assistanceship arrangement.”

This, according to Dr. Zinnah, means that the host universities would provide tuition waiver, provide housing facilities and the PhD candidates would likely work in the laboratory and be assigned with professors that will work with them to get advance mentoring, while at the same time pursuing their PhD Degrees. So when you return to your home universities, you are ready to hit the ground running.”

According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed, the sending university will ensure that the lecturers stipend are covered as well as medical insurance, round trip air ticket provided to enable the lecturers adjust to the new environment. Also, Dr. Zinnah disclosed that the University of Liberia will work with the young lecturers who are going for their PhDs to provide some funding for their research. “The university has committed itself to doing that,” he said.