Drastic changes in BSU

Danida has decided to re-design the Building Stronger Universities project. This has dramatic consequences for all BSU platforms, including PSDR.

2013.08.06 | Martin Damgaard Larsen

Key changes in BSU

  • The organization in platforms is abolished from 31 December 2013. BSU Phase 2 will be managed directly by Danida. Instead of administrating the programme from Denmark through the central coordination and the four platforms with coordinators and chairs, the administration is to be delegated to each of the institutions in the South.
  • According to Danida, Phase 2 will have fewer types of activities, e.g. Ph.D. schools with related course development, courses in better Ph.D. guidance, preparation of concept notes for research programmes, development of protocols, faculty exchange, research seminars, support to preparation of applications, support for capacity development of research environments through accreditation, dissemination of research results etc., and 1-2 support activities in the shape of e.g. courses in financial management, on-line access to libraries etc.
  • Phase 2 activities will be developed as ‘support packages’ and Danish universities in consortia with other actors will be invited to bid for these support packages.

  • Five universities out of the eleven BSU partners are deselected for Phase 2. They are:

    • Tribhuvan University, Nepal
    • Maseno University, Kenya
    • Three universities in Tanzania

  • It is expected that one new university will be added (to be confirmed):

    • Kathmandu University, Nepal

  • The Ph.D and M.Phil activities will continue to operate until 31 December 2013 on the basis of unspent funds from phase 1 as of 1 August 2013; this also applies for institutions that will be phased out. In connection with the formulation of phase 2 it will be ensured that the Ph.D and M.Phil candidates that have already started under phase 1 will continue to be funded.

Kindly note that PSDR leadership, secretariat or partners have not been involved in these decisions whatsoever.

Recent history

During the months February to April, all four BSU Platforms developed detailed plans for BSU Phase 2. During this period, Danida gave very positive signals, culminating in the increase of funding for PSDR and PEC to essentially erase the financial difference between platforms. There were good reasons to have high expectations concerning the future of the collaboration among involved researchers in the three PSDR partner institutions and in Denmark.

Upon submission of the applications, all four platforms were informed that there was a need for some additional information. As for PSDR, the additional needs were minimal, and it was seen as an issue of minor formalities. However, during the same period, Danida also followed up on the very positive review report with an internal desk appraisal. No PSDR institutions/countries were consulted during this appraisal and nobody from PSDR on the Danish side were involved in any way.

The conclusions of the desk appraisal were far-reaching, recommending, among others, substantial changes in the organization of BSU and elimination of the platform structure. BSU was given 28 hours to read and respond to the desk appraisal. Within BSU, there was an understanding that Phase 2 would be implemented as planned but that during Phase 2 we should expect a re-organization prior to Phase 3. Therefore, it was a very unpleasant surprise when we were informed that the BSU application was taken off the agenda of the Danida Grant Committee on the very day of its meeting in June. This was followed by a meeting between Danida and the representatives of the Danish Rector’s Conference, where the decision to change partner institutions and abolish all platforms prior to Phase 2 was informed by Danida.

Rationale

In Danida’s letter to the BSU partner institutions, it reads that Danida’s “main concern was that the partner institutions in the South would not get the most suitable support to strengthen their research capacity with the design of the programme”. In PSDR, it remains difficult to accept this line of argument, given the very substantial involvement of the partner institutions in the prioritizations and design of activities as well as the fact that we were designing a new programme from scratch and that teething problems were expected. While all would agree that in a project like BSU there would be an ongoing learning curve also in terms of management and organization, many teething problems had already been addressed towards the end of Phase 1.

What remained difficult, though, was the alignment across Danish universities – both administratively and politically. While this may have contributed to the organizational changes, it does not explain the changes in selection of PSDR partners, which in our view are ill-informed as far as TU and MSU are concerned. However, the efforts of the Chair and Vice-Chair of the PSDR Steering Committee to positively influence these decisions through correspondence with the Ministry as well as the Minister for Development Co-operation turned out to be in vain.

What remains

Clearly, these developments have punctured the momentum that was building around PSDR and BSU as a whole, and it has been replaced with a high level of frustration. At this juncture, we can opt for one of two roads as far as the rest of 2013 is concerned.

a)     To concentrate exclusively on phasing-out and closing down the project; or

b)     To utilise the available resources in the best possible way.

While a) is self-explanatory, b) rests on the following dual framework:

1) The letter from Danida also says “The institutions that will terminate cooperation with BSU at the end of 2013 will be offered to formulate and implement various activities during the remaining months of 2013 which could facilitate a soft landing, subject to availability of funds that can be allocated from unspent BSU funds as of 1 August 2013. The detailed formulation and implementation of such activities should be discussed and agreed with the BSU Co-ordination Unit. More information on this is being forwarded to each individual institution.” We are not aware of any additional information so far. We are currently working to get an overview of unspent funds and have a dialogue among PSDR partners concerning possible activities.

2) Apart from unspent funds from Phase 1, we have an option to utilize some of the funds for the communication grant. Danida writes: “The special grant of DKK 19 million for communication activities … will continue to operate under the present setup until 31 December 2013. NOTICE: subsequently it has been announced that the special grant continues as an independent project (2013 - 2015) meaning that all original partners will still be able to participate (cf. announcement to partners here). 

Since it is TU and MSU that stand to be “phased out”, they should have the main say in deciding which option to go for – a or b. As soon as this decision is made, we will inform through another newsletter, hoping that there will be widespread support and solidarity no matter which decision is made. 

See Danida's letter to BSU partners

BSUSDR

Building Stronger Universities
Platform for Stability, Democracy & Rights

Tel.: +45 871 62 171
E-mail: psdr@cas.au.dk

777 / i44