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Supporting students in Kenya and other developing countries

Around 30,000 young Kenyans leave each year to study overseas and after three or four years away, many do not return.

This movement of educated Kenyans out of the country is part of what’s known as the ‘brain drain’, with around half a million Kenyans working in foreign countries. Now, a pan-African initiative aims to help tackle the problem by supporting promising students at home.

The ‘Regional Initiative in Science and Education’ (RISE) programme has been set up by the Science Initiative Group (SIG). This is a team of international scientific leaders and supporters dedicated to fostering science in developing countries. Funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, the RISE programme began accepting applications from African students in 2007. It now supports over 60 students doing masters or PhD studies in Africa.

One such student is John Mwero, who is conducting research towards his PhD in Kenya. Supported by RISE, he is studying how the ash from burnt sugar cane might be of use in construction, by helping to make cement stronger and cheaper. Speaking to The Guardian, the young civil engineer explained how funding from RISE enabled him to focus on his studies without needing to take time out for work. It also helped him to have access to the right equipment and to find suitable mentors, including a structural engineering professor from Nigeria and a mechanical engineering professor from Namibia. This has allowed him to find the necessary training and expertise to carry on his studies in Kenya and build a future at home. “I’m trying to set up an engineering practice here, so I need to keep meeting …people. If I disappear for three or four years, then I’ll become a total stranger,” he says.

Keeping such talented individuals in Africa means that university departments are able to build themselves up as centres of excellence. This is important for scientific areas which have a direct impact on local problems, such as the protection of a specific environment, or health issues which particularly affect Africans. The RISE programme is committed to supporting projects which focus on local problems, such as testing natural cures and treatments for malaria.

The idea is therefore not only to enable highly-educated individuals to stay in sub-Saharan Africa so they can contribute to their national and regional economies, but also to support learning which will go towards development in Africa as a whole.

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