Monday, 24 January 2022

The British Council is funding climate partnerships between British and Egyptian universities

The British Council is funding climate partnerships between British and Egyptian universities: Last year, the British Council Egypt launched grants to promote collaboration between universities and higher education institutions in Egypt and the UK on climate change. In the lead-up to this year’s COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, between December and mid-January, UK and Egyptian universities were invited to apply for the funding, which is aimed at improving institutions’ resilience to climate change and supporting their efforts to work with communities, business and government to address climate issues.

We sat down with British Council Egypt Country Director, Elizabeth White (LinkedIn), and British Council Egypt Head of Science, Shaimaa ElBanna (LinkedIn), to ask about the scope and focus of these climate change grants. Newly-appointed British Council CEO, Scott McDonald (LinkedIn), also gave insights into the Council’s broader climate strategy.

Edited excerpts from our conversation, below:

Eleven grants, each worth GBP 35k, are up for grabs, says White. Grant applications must have a principal applicant from the UK and a partner from Egypt. Any UK university or consortium — which could also include NGOs — was eligible to apply. Grants must be used within a year, starting April 2022, White adds.

The British Council Egypt received 186 applications, says ElBanna.

Successful applicants should be notified in the week beginning 13 February, says White. Eligible applications will be reviewed by a panel of five experts, consisting of a representative from the British Council Egypt, a science advisor from the UK, a member of Egypt’s Environment Ministry and external experts from the British and Egyptian higher education sectors.

Grants could be used for a diverse range of projects, including teaching, institutional capacity building, or policy improvement, says White. Eligible projects could focus on teaching, developing learning materials, supporting institutions affected by climate change, and bringing youth voices to COP27, among other things, she says.

The idea is to support universities to integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation into their activities, says White. With Egypt facing particular climate change challenges — including desertification, extreme weather, and rising sea levels — the climate focus at policy level is becoming stronger, she says. And for universities to train, educate and support the next generation to face climate change is crucial — perhaps by providing greater diversity in disciplines studied, or even psychosocial support. “But we won’t preach to universities about what they should work on, because we’re not the setters of policy. We’re the setters of collaboration and cooperation.”

Relevance, reputation and feasibility will determine who gets the funding: The universities’ academic reputation and standing, and what they want to achieve with the grants, will be big factors in the assessment process, says White. But quality and relevance — a clear timeline, description of how applicants can sustain a long-term collaboration, and evidence that the proposal will support climate change action within the universities — are also key, she adds.

Newton-Mosharafa Fund provided a blueprint: The GBP 50 mn Newton-Mosharafa scientific education fund — a joint Egypt-UK fund designed to support research partnerships — showed that when universities and higher education institutions work together, long-term relationships start to evolve organically, says White. “We’ve seen research partnerships eventually lead to dual degrees, as with East London University and Ain Shams University,” says ElBanna.

And the body of Egypt-UK university climate-focused research is growing: Egyptian universities working with UK counterparts have already made headway on climate change research focused particularly on water management, desalination, and renewable energy, as well as sustainable and urban cities, says ElBanna. “Some successful partnerships have been made in these fields.”

The grants are fully-funded by the UK government — but the aim would be to co-fund if they continue: The grants are currently funded purely through the grant allocation for cultural relations from the UK government to the British Council, says White. But in the future, the council would probably seek co-funding by the UK and Egyptian governments, she adds.

And will they continue after 2022? British Council Egypt will be pushing for it. Climate is currently a particular focus because of Egypt hosting COP27 this year, and the UK hosting COP26 last year, White says. But beyond 2022, British Council Egypt will push for continued funding and support from the council to set up these kinds of university collaborations, she adds. At this stage, it’s impossible to know if the program will continue in future years, she adds.

Ultimately, Egypt sets the agenda: “Our key partnership has always been with the Higher Education Ministry, which is a main force and often a contributing force to our programs,” says White. For other partners supporting the British Council Egypt’s work, “it’s mostly Egypt’s agenda — not that of the British Council — that’s most important for them,” says ElBanna.

The British Council’s entire climate change strategy hinges on collaboration, says McDonald. The climate change grants are part of the British Council’s wide-ranging Climate Connection program — established in the run-up to COP26 to spur global partnerships built around climate change — and its Going Global partnerships program, designed to build partnerships between global higher education players. The Council’s work — focused on arts, culture, and education — is an important vehicle for climate conversations, helping youth make their voices heard, and leveraging an extensive global network to drive partnerships and behavior change, he says.

Cross-cutting existing activities, the Climate Connection is rising very rapidly as a top priority, says McDonald. “The program itself is still in development, as we figure out where it adds the most value. It will probably evolve enormously in the next year.”

And business and industry will need to work more closely with higher education institutions on climate change, he believes. Essential work being performed by academics on climate change will eventually have to be turned into practical solutions for our economic drivers, says McDonald. “It’s a work in progress, because we need a huge amount of R&D before climate research can become business solutions — whether we’re talking about water purification, how we use power, or how we design buildings.”

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Tackling the teacher shortage: In a bid to plug the shortfall in teachers, the government will hire an additional 30k teachers annually for the next five years and up the amount it spends on bonuses for teachers to EGP 3.1 bn.
  • USAID will fund the establishment of six new international applied technology schools in Sharqia, Assiut, Alexandria, Giza and Minya in partnership with the Education Ministry and six Egyptian companies.
  • Students at five Cairo universities will be given training sessions on artificial intelligence through an initiative launched by the ICT Ministry and Dell.
  • Cairo University has partnered with the US government to open a disability service center, which will advocate for university-wide policies and provide services and equipment to students with disabilities.

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