December 16, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth
Finding new ways to deliver with partners in Africa
Dr Jo-Anna Russon on how a collaborative, creative approach with partners in Uganda and South Africa is overcoming the challenges of the pandemic
VET Africa 4.0 seeks to re-frame vocational education and training (VET) in a more inclusive and sustainable manner, drawing on case studies in Uganda and South Africa.
The project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Global Challenges Research Fund, is led by Professor Simon McGrath of the School of Education and involves a partnership between the University of Nottingham, Gulu University in Uganda, and South Africa’s Witwatersrand and Rhodes universities.
As of December 2020, despite severe challenges, we have managed to secure a rich data set that meets the aims and objectives of the two-year project, which ends in February 2021.
In hindsight, the seeds for delivering the project in a time of global crisis were sown in the original project design, which centred on the case-based research priorities of the international partners.
By January of this year each case team had begun collecting data and had a comprehensive plan for the subsequent development of their case – then came Covid-19 and lockdowns for all project partners.
Our immediate priority was ensuring the safety of the team, then – slowly – the case teams began adapting to the challenge of conducting field work in a pandemic!
This included connecting with a local radio station in Gulu, Uganda, and using this as an alternative to focus group discussions, engaging in more 1-1 conversations when appropriate, and analysing WhatsApp data.
Practical measures included such weekly online team meetings and cross-case discussions, and purchasing mobile data bundles so that team members with no home wi-fi could stay connected during lockdown by toggling a laptop to their mobile phone.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 delays have meant that project outputs (e.g. papers, policy briefs) will not be delivered on time. However, once again the ethos of genuine partnership that underpinned the project will ensure that outputs are delivered in a non-extractive way. On Tuesday 15 December 2020 we held an online Dragons Den process where undergraduates and post-graduates involved in the South Africa and Uganda cases pitched their project paper ideas, and they will be paired with senior project staff to develop their paper in 2021.
We are also in negotiations with a publisher for the VET Africa 4.0 project book to cite the authorship as The VET Africa 4.0 Collective, in recognition of the multi-authored collaborative approach adopted throughout the project.