SCIENCE, NATURALLY

Mozambique 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Orlando A. Quilambo, Rector of Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), on international partnerships, gas and mining industries, and the balance of social science and technical subjects in higher education.

Orlando A. Quilambo
BIOGRAPHY
Orlando A. Quilambo was born in Mozambique and obtained his BA at the Faculty of Education at the Eduardo Mondlane University. He obtained his PhD in Natural Sciences at the Department of Plant Biology, University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He was Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs from 2005 to 2011, making a great contribution for the formulation of the Research Policy and Scientific Journal at the university. Since 2009, he has been the President of the Academy of Sciences of Mozambique and since 2011 Rector of the Eduardo Mondlane University. He has coordinated several programs and research projects, and he has published more than 20 journal articles and a book.

How would you characterize the importance for your university of international partnerships, such as the agreement with the Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University?

I must say that after Mozambique's independence, Eduardo Mondlane University was a more teacher-focused university, as the priority at that time was teacher training. In that period, most of the lectures were given by foreigners who generally came to teach in Mozambique. In the 1990s, we realized that we could try something different, through cooperation with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and also certain donor agencies, such as NORAD from Norway and DANIDA from Denmark. These organizations have helped the university to build the critical mass in terms of projects and in terms of Master's programs. At the moment, we consider this continuing international cooperation vital for the university, as it makes us more international and builds our capacity. The international population is key, and we have several bilateral arrangements with foreign institutions. We also have multilateral agreements through different agencies. I evaluate our current situation as good, but believe it could be further improved.

How do you go about selecting institutions for collaboration?

We carefully consider our priorities and act on that knowledge. Today, we are looking more to universities that can support us in terms of post-graduate studies. We could probably be more pro-active in this endeavor; some come to us because of our reputation, but it might be an idea to seek out partners ourselves. China will become a more important destination for students, but currently Australia and Brazil are popular choices.

How has the growth of the gas and mining industries in Mozambique influenced peoples' choices in terms of higher education?

I think we realized that we were somewhat lacking in momentum. Until recently, Eduardo Mondlane was probably the only university that offered courses related to mining, namely our geology course. When the gas and coal boom occurred, we were not prepared for the increased demand for relevant courses. Therefore, we are now trying to make up for lost time. We are working on a strategic plan for geo-scientists and engineers to meet demand. This will involve a considerable investment, with more infrastructure and human resources being needed. Although the boom is here, the response is not yet at an adequate level, and will be noticeable over the next few years. We are currently teaching our first petroleum engineering MA students, who are set to graduate in 2015. Then, many of these will themselves be ready to teach undergraduates. We are developing an MA training course with Anadarko, but there are also proposals to organize courses for people already working in mining.

“ We have around 30,000 candidates each year, but can admit just 4,000. "

Many people say that there is not currently much emphasis given to natural sciences in tertiary education in Mozambique. Would you agree?

This is indeed true. Of the entire university population, probably 70% or 80% have opted for social sciences or humanities. This is largely because secondary education itself lacks emphasis or the means to teach natural sciences. To counter this apparent lack of interest we plan to launch a scheme of “open days" where school-aged students can come to understand that science is also a study option in a graduate and post-graduate setting. We also provide scientific equipment to certain affiliated schools. The Ministry, too, is currently providing kits to these schools, so that school children can at least encounter equipment such as microscopes at an early age.

How does Eduardo Mondlane face the logistical challenge of educating people across a wide and varied terrain?

This is a major problem we have to contend with. We have around 30,000 candidates each year, but can admit just 4,000. We do have the capacity in some areas to reach people living remotely from Maputo through distance education. And yet, while we leverage online learning, internet connection is not as reliable as we would like, which is a further handicap for the entire system. A medium-term solution will therefore involve an increased number of internet providers. On the other hand, while online study is a partial solution regarding the social sciences, it is not the be all and end all where natural sciences are concerned, as students need to physically be present at our facilities. We have fewer than 100,000 students for a population of 20 million, which is clearly not enough.