Strategic Partnerships, Capacity Development, Internationalization of Science

, ,

  • SCIENTIA is an acronym for “Strategic partnerships, Capacity development, Internationalization of science, E-learning, Networking, Technology and science for development, Innovative knowledge sharing and Africa focus”. Through the programme, the UNU Vice-Rectorate in Europe (UNU-ViE) coordinates the strategic development and implementation of the roadmap of UNU’s focus on Africa, including surveying and disseminating information regarding Africa-related activities across UNU institutes and programmes. Recognizing the critical role of knowledge, science and technology for Africa’s development, expertise is put towards enhancing quality and access to higher education and research through the innovative use of e-learning and knowledge sharing. In order to carry this out, SCIENTIA participates in various research and development and science policy projects (funded by the European Union and German development agencies), integrates and animates actively specialized professional networks, and supports collaborative activities across UNU institutes and programmes. Efforts are also devoted to  establishing and nurturing strategic partnerships within the spheres of academia, policymakers, and donors.


    The programme is responsible, in collaboration with other UNU units, for monitoring (collection and analysis of relevant data) the advancement of the twinning partnerships between UNU institutes and programmes and African partners. As such, SCIENTIA provides information that can be used for the development of twinning projects. A yearly report is provided for the Council meeting.

    Focal Point

    The activities of the section are coordinated by Dr. Virginie Aimard, Academic Officer and Head of Section.


    The programme supports institutions of higher education in their efforts to tap the potential of e-learning and innovative knowledge creation and sharing in order to respond to the pressing development challenges the world is facing. It attempts to respond to the need to increase outreach and the quality of educational programmes and institutional governance so as to improve access to higher education in developing countries. This work is directly linked to the UNU strategic objectives 2009-2012, in particular, the elaboration of the UNU e-learning strategy and the implementation of the Africa Roadmap Initiative.


    The programme participates in international collaboration on research and development and policy projects. It works towards expanding UNU’s network and outreach in the field of e-learning and innovative knowledge exchange and strives for a coherent UNU e-learning policy. The programme is involved in drafting a joint funding proposal with other UNU institutes and programmes and in organizing joint activities with other UN agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITC-ILO); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; etc.


    Four staff members out of four are female, including the Head of Section.

    Target Audience

    The main target group consists of institutions of higher education in developing countries, particularly in Africa. The programme is also developing and maintaining partnerships with donor organizations as well as host country institutions, UN agencies and other UNU institutes on a cross-cutting level.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Contribution to a UN assessment/issue/query
    Target: This programme aims to help improve e-learning in international capacity building at FAO, UNITAR, ITC-ILO, World Bank Institute.
    How: This will be done by establishing a common accreditation and quality improvement scheme for e-learning courses and programmes in international capacity building (OpenECBCheck) also with GIZ, European Foundation for Quality in eLearning (EFQUEL), and the African Virtual University. UNU is part of the steering committee together with four other UN organizations (FAO, UNITAR, ITC-ILO and the World Bank Institute).

    Impact: Furthering knowledge in an academic field
    Target: This programme seeks to improve open education and open educational resources, e-learning, innovative knowledge sharing.
    How: This target will be achieved through participation in European Union (EU)-funded reasearch and development projects in collaboration with European universities in the field of e-learning, such as the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme project OERTest on the feasibility of establishing accreditation and certification systems across universities to recognize learning via open educational resources; and through participation in specialized professional networks like EFQUEL, Knowledge Management for Development, and graphic and strategic facilitation communities of practice.

    Impact: Teaching
    Target: This programme strives to strengthen the capacity of institutions of higher education in Africa to deliver high quality education in the area of e-learning.
    How: The goal of this target is creating a regional master’s degree programme in Africa in the field of education on information and communications technology.

    Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
    Target: The programme aims to establish e-learning competence centres in leading African universities.
    How: The capacity development impact will be achieved by strengthening the individual capacity of staff members of partner institutions through tailor-made exchange and placement programmes in addition to the organization of “training the trainers” seminars and the development of e-learning material.

    Impact: Supporting academic communities
    Target: This programme aims to support both staff at the academic level and the institutional level in integrating e-learning successfully into the university structure and practices.
    How: The impact will be achieved by strengthening the individual capacity of staff members of partner institutions through tailor-made exchange and placement programmes in addition to the organization of “training the trainers” seminars and the development of e-learning material, as well as through organization of specialized workshops and meetings. Practitioners and innovation leaders will also be included. This target will also include contribution to the creation and sustaining of a professional network of e-learning practitioners across Africa in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Policy Bridging

    Through the science policy programme “Dialogue for Sustainability, Sustainable Solutions” (D4S), we are contributing to the formation of a science-supported policy planning framework and community for the German Ministry of Education and Research.

    Value Added

    The programme brings added value through innovative educational technology helping to alleviate the capacity bottleneck of institutions of higher education in Africa and other parts of the developing world.


    The programme supports the preparation of bilateral scientific expert meetings and conferences and produces research and policy papers. For the UNU Africa Roadmap a “Priority Africa” website is being rolled out. The outcomes of SCIENTIA are also disseminated through an online platform where ideas and reflections are shared about the areas of work (Learning Hub), as well as through online seminars and online discussions. The use of visual and social media to engage and reach out to our target groups is currently being explored.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    SCIENTIA was conceived in its present form in 2009, through activities began in October 2007. The programme review for the biennium 2012-2013 envisages a prioritization and improved alignment with the activities of SCIENTIA and part of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security.


    An impact and performance indicators system is being developed to integrate qualitative criteria, e.g., the extent to which activities have induced a positive change in the practices of the partner institutions. So far, evaluation criteria includes the number of people exposed to capacity development activities (online and onsite). Evaluation criteria for the Dialogues for Sustainability include how many joint German partner country science policy conferences were effectively taking place.


    Given that the programme implementation needs external funding to continue its work, its volatility under the present financial and political conditions cannot be ruled out. A particular challenge is the fact that the programme seeks to carry out an institutional development mandate (UNU Africa Roadmap), which has an internal scope, while needing to find external funds to finance it. At a minimum, partial UNU central funding will be necessary for the success of the Africa Roadmap.  Another challenge is the limited human capacity in regards to the large scope and objective it carries. In view of this challenge, it is essential to focus on the core added value that UNU can bring, as well as on acquisition of third party funding for the e-learning activities.

  • Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between the UNU Vice-Rectorate in Europe and 12 partners:

    • UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security
    • UNU International Institute for Software Technology
    • UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa
    • UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Institute on Innovation and Technology
    • UNU Office of Communications, Tokyo
    • Office of the Rector
    • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    • International Labour Organization
    • United Nations Environmental Programme
    • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
    • United Nations Institute for Training and Research
    • UN Volunteers
  • Title: Strengthening e-Learning capacities in Africa
    Publication/Output Type: White Paper
    Date Published: 2012

  • United Nations University
    Vice-Rectorate in Europe
    UN Campus
    Platz der Vereinten Nationen 1
    53113 Bonn, Germany

    T: +49 228 815-0200
    F: +49 228 815-0299