Professor Munashe Furusa is the fourth Vice-Chancellor of Africa University.
In this interview, he talks to AfricaLive about the ambitious vision the University has to tackle many of the critical challenges facing the African continent; from tackling malaria to human trafficking and the immigration crisis. The University has built strong and credible partnerships with a variety of institutions including UNICEF and the Government of Japan. Prof Furusa believes collaboration is vital to ensure the continued development of Zimbabwe and Africa, and calls for greater input from the private sector in tackling the big issues around African development.
AfricaLive: What has been your motivation throughout your continued leadership of Africa University?
Prof Munashe: For me, it is about making an impact as well as a strong desire to improve this environment and leave it better than I found it. The transformation of local lives is also fundamental, and I believe this the primary role of institutions of higher learning.
AfricaLive: How would you describe the identity of Africa University?
Prof Munashe: Africa University is a Pan-African University established in 1992. It was established by the United Methodist Church General Conference based in the U.S, who are also responsible for the creation of several universities across different continents. It was created thanks to a petition by African Methodist bishops and a suitable location for the institution was identified as Mutare, Zimbabwe.
It was commissioned by the government of Zimbabwe to go on and produce ethically and morally grounded transformative leaders. We currently train students from over 31 African countries of diverse backgrounds and faiths and are run by an independent board of directors.
AfricaLive: As the institution head, what’s your strategy for the development of Africa University?
Prof Munashe: By focusing heavily on research, we are working to align our growth strategy with the ambitious modernisation and industrialisation goals set by the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
We condensed the number of colleges at the institution from seven to three to sharpen our focus on how the continent’s challenges can be solved through innovation.
The three colleges are the college of Business leadership and governance, the college of health, agriculture and natural sciences, and the college of social sciences, theology, humanities, and education. The disciplines in all three colleges will interact within each college and also across all colleges.
We have also set up an innovation hub known as the i5 hub, set up to promote research, encourage innovation, technological solutions and business enterprise development. The i5 innovation hub gets its name from the five mantras of the innovation institution, which are; ideation, innovation, incubation, intellectual property, and industry development. Through this hub, the university has helped companies across the country and the continent; protect their intellectual property by assisting them to secure patents.
AfricaLive: With the main focus being on research, what are some of the most notable projects you’re working on?
Prof Munashe: We are working on some exciting and important projects, one of them being Malaria research. As a centre of excellence for malaria research, we have an insectary where we breed mosquitoes for research purposes. We also help both companies and consumers find out if the mosquito-combating products released to the market are effective or not through our research.
We are a centre of excellence for child rights and childhood studies as well. We are doing transformative research on how the menace of child abuse and early marriage can be defeated; in conjunction with UNICEF.
We are also venturing into immigration and migration studies. Here we look at people’s moving patterns, most notably the recent deaths and refugee situations caused by attempts by continental Africans to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
We are involved in environmental research and advocacy, geared at producing research that will lead to policy recommendation, and improving disaster preparedness and management. As earlier mentioned, we are also big on intellectual property studies in Africa.
Our intellectual property program is supported by the world intellectual property organisation, the African regional intellectual property organisation, and the Japanese government.
AfricaLive: Are you actively looking to partner with Zimbabwean businesses and other businesses across Africa?
Prof Munashe: We are ready to commission research works for local businesses in record time. We have also secured strategic partnerships being members of important business groups in Africa such as; the Confederation of Zimbabwean industries, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, and CEO Africa roundtable.
AfricaLive: What is the role of African Universities in preparing the continent for the 4th industrial revolution?
Prof Munashe: The fourth industrial revolution will be all about interconnecting processes, industries, and institutions through new technology. Bearing in mind that there is a global reduction in higher institution funding, it is prudent to use technology to utilise resources efficiently. African institutions of higher learning have a duty to create spaces that foster ideation, innovation, and incubation of ideas that will develop into technological solutions.
Africa Live: Are you looking to embrace the commercialisation of ideas now, or in the future?
Prof Munashe: We are looking to embrace that immediately. We will seek partnerships that will help us commercialise potentially impactful software products developed by our students, and sell them to companies.
Africa Live: What should be done to improve collaboration between the African private sector and the academic sector?
Prof Munashe: There has to be a strong partnership between the private sector, universities, and government, where all parties step into each other’s shoes. This approach would lead to collaborative relationships through information sharing, revenue generation and sharing, and government investment in innovation.
AfricaLive: Where do you see Africa University in ten to twenty years?
Prof Munashe: Africa University will be admired as an institution fully focused on research, innovation, teaching, and community engagement.
Africa Live: What’s your advice to graduates stepping into the global workforce?
Prof Munashe: I advise graduates to not just focus on their majors, but instead embrace life-long learning. In this ever-changing world, it is essential to be multi-skilled and to have the ability to work in a team.
Africa Live: What do people from around the world find surprising about Africa University and Zimbabwe?
Prof Munashe: People outside the continent find it fascinating and surprising that Africa University is a comprehensive institution with quality up-to-date programs on science, arts, leadership, and humanities. Zimbabwe has unfortunately been the victim of a single story that speaks of the country’s decline, and collapse. However, people increasingly realise that the country has a lot to offer in terms of beauty, education, and investment opportunities.