Dec 6, 2011

Africa starts to train their own PhDs, the attention on research is increasing

A Ugandan university starts training their own PhDs. The attantion to reasearsh is increasing. The focus is on computing science. If you have been following the news on Africa the trend has been reversed. The good news are outnumbering the bad news. In a TED video I heard that the Einstein of this century will come out of Africa. 
But Venansius Baryamureeba had bigger ideas. In 2005, when he returned home with a doctorate from the University of Bergen in Norway, he was just one of a handful of computer scientists in Uganda. And his timing was right. The largely agricultural economy had been growing by about 7 percent annually, propelling an enormous expansion of the upper middle class and the urban elite’s aspirations for advanced training in science and engineering.
Emboldened by Uganda’s relative peace and prosperity, Dr. Baryamureeba founded a new college that includes departments of computer science and computer engineering at creaky Makerere University, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. At the top of a hill near the university’s entrance, overlooking the derelict law school to one side and a derelict school mosque to the other, two gleaming glass buildings went up seemingly without a hitch. So many undergraduates swarmed them that the faculty held classes at midnight to accommodate them.
Dr. Baryamureeba wanted more than a vocational school; he also created a graduate program he hoped would someday turn out dozens of Ph.D. scientists who would themselves become college professors and help push the boundaries of global research.
Improbably, his vision is gaining traction at Makerere. Young homegrown scientists there are now nearing completion of their Ph.D.’s. And faculty members are carrying out cutting-edge experiments. They are seeking to endow cellphones with the “intelligence,” embedded in tiny software programs animated by mathematical algorithms, to identify diseases in crops or malaria in a person’s bloodstream.
Ernest Mwebaze, a doctoral student and lecturer, said there are still serious obstacles to pursuing such research in Uganda, including unreliable Internet service and power failures. But he also said the potential upside is huge.
“Uganda offers several unique research challenges and problems whose solutions can actually have a greater marginal benefit than, say, solutions to problems in Europe,” he said.
Each Monday, in a laboratory of thrumming computers, Mr. Mwebaze teaches a small class on artificial intelligence to 10 graduate students, highlighting this esoteric field, the subject of his doctorate research.
And the potential for Africans trained in Africa to conduct science attuned to the realities of Africa is not limited to computing. “There’s a growing interest in research, and science generally, in the region,” said Calestous Juma, a Harvard professor who specializes in the study of technology and development.
The rapid spread of cellphones has fueled an appreciation among Africans for the practical uses of science and technology. And the children of the African elite are also seeing career possibilities in computing science and engineering, beyond the traditional disciplines of medicine, law and finance or the more typical scientific callings of crop and soil science.
“Computer science appeals to a generation of urban students raised on a diet of digital devices,” said Chanda Chisala of Zambia Online, a software development company and Internet provider in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
The field also may appeal to chronically underfinanced African universities because the study of computer science is relatively inexpensive. No big atom smashers are needed, as in physics; no giant telescopes, as in astronomy.
That is from this NYT article. Very impressive! 

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