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Major EU grant for PhD programme in Africa’s biggest challenges

How should Africa deal with the major continent-wide challenges related to, among other things, health, refugees, the environment and energy supply? These are some of the questions junior researchers from all over the world will be addressing as part of a new European collaboration headed by Aarhus University. The collaboration has recently received an EU grant of DKK 31 million.

2017.10.25 | Ulrik Albert Vosgerau

Lotte Meinert

In the coming years, as part of a new European collaboration entitled ANTHUSIA, 15 PhD projects will provide insight into how organisations working in Africa can better handle some of the biggest challenges on the African continent.

For example, one of the PhD projects focuses on epidemics with a view to describing and comparing the development and the consequences of epidemics such as Ebola, AIDS and tuberculosis in East Africa. From an anthropological perspective, the project is to study life and the conditions of healthcare professionals during an epidemic, as well as significant safety issues in relation to fighting and preventing major epidemics in Africa. The aim is to learn more about how the interaction between social and environmental issues accelerates the spread of the epidemics. The project is ultimately intended to find new ways of dealing with epidemics together with local healthcare professionals, patients and relatives.

Another project focuses on conflicts arising in border regions between African states. The area between Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan is facing special challenges, and there are certain population groups that do not feel part of a particular nation.

“There are challenges in these areas which the nation states have practically no knowledge about, and which may be handled better by other local players. The massive social and economic problems in Africa also have consequences for Europe – for example in the form of emigration issues. That’s probably one of the reasons why the EU has found the project relevant and wants to support it. It’s impossible for us in Europe to ignore the problems and say: ‘They’re on their own’. Our project can help identify the challenges and, in the long term, create a solid conceptual framework for action,” says Lotte Meinert, Professor with Special Responsibilities (MSO) in Anthropology at Aarhus University and collaboration coordinator.

New academic approach and stationing
The PhD projects all operate in the academic cross field between anthropology, human security and African studies, which is a combination not found anywhere else in the world.

“What’s special about our academic approach is that we combine anthropological method and theory with human security analyses and deep insight into local and regional African issues. So the research is based on long-standing field work in local areas where people are the main focus – how do they experience and relate to the problems, and what do they see as issues and solutions?” says Lotte Meinert.

All PhDs must, as a minimum, stay at two of the four universities in the network. In addition, during their one-year field work, the PhDs will be stationed for a period of three to five months in one of the 20 partner organisations associated with the network. Common to the partner organisations, ranging from small NGOs to major organisations such as the World Bank and the UN, is that they work with problems in Africa.

“Our plan and dream is to educate a network of researchers who, through their research, can contribute knowledge on how to solve some of the major problems in that part of the world. Of course, junior researchers from all over the world – also Africa – can apply for a PhD fellowship in the network. The purpose of the stationing is to ensure that the research is relevant to the area of interest, but also that it supports the students’ career after the project. Hopefully, it will be a win-win situation, where the students acquire an understanding of the practice which their research is to support, but also bring a great deal of knowledge into the organisations,” explains Lotte Meinert.

Even though the 15 PhD projects have already been given predefined headings and objectives, the idea is that the students develop their projects based on the experience gained along the way.

Once a year, the network conducts a summer school in Nairobi, where the PhDs, supervisors and some of the partners can meet and discuss the issues that cut across all projects. The participants also include the network’s expert panel of internationally acknowledged anthropologists as well as human security and Africa experts.

Headed by Aarhus University, the collaboration with Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), the University of Oslo (Norway) and the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) has been awarded DKK 31 million from the EU’s research and innovation programme ‘Horizon 2020’. The collaboration is entitled ANTHUSIA (Anthropology of Human Security in Africa), and the projects that form part of it focus on some of the biggest challenges in Africa south of the Sahara.

Together with 20 partner organisations, the four universities will offer a new joint PhD degree and advertise 15 PhD fellowships. The joint European PhD degree is a new type of ‘Marie Curie’ grant under the Horizon 2020 programme. Because the PhD degree is established jointly by the four European countries, it must meet the standards for awarding the degree in all four countries.

The EU grant involves a mobility requirement, which means that potential students cannot apply for a fellowship at the same place as they completed their Master’s degree. Five of the 15 PhDs must be enrolled and have their principal supervisor in Aarhus. Furthermore, the graduate school at Aarhus University offers yet another PhD fellowship based in Aarhus.

The PhD fellowships will be advertised in January 2018, and the students will start in September 2018.

Lotte Meinert
Professor with Special Responsibilities (MSO) in Anthropology at Aarhus University
Telephone: +45 87 16 21 71
Email: lotte.meinert@cas.au.dk
Web: http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/persons/lotte-meinert

Antropologi, Grant