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From Coleraine to Africa

My last communication was nearly three weeks ago following the latest cuts in the Irish aid budget.

My blogging inactivity in the meantime can only be excused by a short break over Easter and dealing with some of the hard decisions arising from the cuts.

Mural of Samuel Beckett, Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on”

But none of these reasons satisfy my editor and I am definitely in his bad books. So, like one of Samuel Beckett's characters, I must go on.

Universities and development

I spent a fascinating day last week at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, one of the four campuses of the university. I was speaking at a conference organised by the university on “Globalising Higher Education: Universities, International Development and Social Justice.” The University of Ulster is committed, with strong leadership from the top, to defining what it can do to contribute to international development and social justice.

Linking Ireland and Africa

The university is part of an imaginative project, supported by Irish Aid, linking Irish and African universities in building research capacity to promote development. All nine universities on the island of Ireland, North and South, are linking to four important African universities to chart how, together, they can accelerate development in Africa.

Making a real contribution

I am impressed with the project for two reasons. Firstly, it challenges the Irish university sector to identify the areas where, with their African counterparts, they can make a real contribution to development. Secondly, it also acknowledges the crucial role of the third level education sector in promoting national development.

The wider picture

This project does not have the immediacy of responding to starving children or healing the sick. But it seeks to contribute to longer-term structural economic and social change, which will prevent hunger and disease. And it is entirely correct that it should be part of an overall aid programme aimed at ending poverty and promoting development.

No more cuts

The increased resources within the aid programme, allied to innovative thinking, has meant that such a project can be part of Ireland's aid programme in recent years. The cutbacks in the aid budget means that such imaginative projects, with long-term potential, might not be possible in the future. This is just one of the issues I will return to over the coming months as we advocate for “no more cuts in the aid budget”!