Partnerships are important for building Centres of Excellence

By Whitney Paiman and Nomanesi Makhonco, 31st May

We interviewed Prof Erik Ofosu Antwi and Dr Gifty Serwaa Mensah from the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) – Regional Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability, Ghana.

Regional Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability, Ghana

Expanding the network of southern expertise through partnerships is integral to phase 2 of the Transforming Energy Access Learning Partnership (TEA-LP). In this interview Prof Erik Antwi and Dr Gifty Serwaa, from UENR, a new TEA-LP partner university in Ghana, highlight the importance of partnerships for building Centres of Excellence and what they look most forward to in joining the partnership.

Could you please give us a brief background to your Master’s programme into which the new TEA-LP courses will be incorporated?

The University of Energy and Natural Resources specialises in energy related programs, and we have a BSc Renewable Engineering Programme, that started in 2012. In 2015 we introduced the Masters of Sustainable Energy Engineering Management and PhD Programme. In 2018 there was a worldwide call for the setting up of Centres of Excellence, and we applied, and we won.

At the Centre of Excellence, we manage the postgraduate programs of two departments. That is Sustainable Energy Management and Environmental Engineering Management. We have students from about 14 African countries.

Which TEA-LP courses you have selected to take up?

We have taken up all three courses: Local Solutions for Energy Access, Mini-grids and the Appliances for Off-Grid Solutions.

How do you think these courses will benefit students who enroll for the degree programme?

Generally, all these courses are supposed to equip the students in Sustainable Energy Engineering Management, to be able to provide sustainable solutions for the energy challenges we face. It’s easy to get a job with a major utility company and do the everyday routine stuff. But to be able to have the skill to go to an off-grid community and provide a solution is an add on for anybody that will go through the program.

As part of our existing program, we equip the student with entrepreneurial and business skills. They are not learning just the engineering and technical aspects. They can build business models around that and attract funding, while they are  helping to expand energy access as well.

What do you hope students would walk away with after having completed particular courses or the whole programme? 

We try as much as possible for teaching and learning to be students centered. It’s quite practical. Students are given the theoretical basis and then they have to practice the theory. Students are put in groups and then they must apply the theoretical lessons they’ve learned. For solar courses, it is very practical. They go to the field to be able to apply. In terms of challenges, funds are always a challenge in realizing an achieving practical lessons. But the faculty is willing to do whatever it takes to make the courses as practical as possible.

How do you plan to customise the TEA-LP courses? Which contextual elements do you wish to embed?

We are looking at the solar PV stand-alone systems being used in island communities. We are also trying to partner with the Ministry of Energy on some of the Mini Grid projects that they are doing. Then we are trying to look at research into Bio Energy Technologies, which also have potential.  We are also looking at small Hydro components, because we see that Ghana has developed all its major large Hydro schemes.

Ghana has almost a 90% electrification rate, and most of the ones that are left behind are some of the island communities. To be able to have students take a course that focuses on local solutions for energy access is interesting and promotes access for those communities.

 What do you most look forward to by joining the TEA-LP?

If we could create that opportunity for students, especially when they are doing their research. Our Centre of Excellence is ready to support staff development. Those things are critical for us as a Centre, because we believe that the quality of the Centre is in the quality of education we give to the students. We may not have everything, but if we can leverage the partnerships we have.

Would you consider collaboration within the TEA-LP for sharing teaching ideas, or guest lectures at other TEA-LP universities through online platforms? 

Absolutely. It’s important to have these networks and to be able to transfer knowledge and skills. So, it’s something we’ll be very much interested in. Partnerships are important in building Centres of Excellence.