On January 15th 2020 a new international project called “EnRHEd” (Enhancement of Rwandan higher education in strategic fields for sustainable growth) officially starts. This is a project of broad international scope, which opens up a privileged relationship between four Higher Education Institutions in Rwanda, on the one side, and three European Universities from Italy, Germany and Belgium, on the other side.  Namely, the Project partners are: University of Rwanda, Institute of Applied Sciences INES-Ruhengeri (Rwanda), IPRC Polytechnic School of Musanze (Rwanda), University of Art and Technology of Byumba (Rwanda), University of Parma (Italy), Rheinische Fachhochschule University of Applied Science Cologne – RFH (Germany), University of Liège (Belgium). The project has been approved within the Erasmus Plus programme and received nine hundred thousand euros from the European Union. It is a Capacity Building project, coordinated by Roberto Valentino, Associate Professor and deputy director of the University Centre for International Cooperation (CUCI) at the University of Parma (Italy). Last December 11th 2019, Prof Paolo Andrei, the Rector of the University of Parma, and Dr Ralph Rahders, the representative of the European Commission, officially signed the Grant Agreement of the “EnRHEd” project.

The strategic fields for sustainable growth, that have been selected for the project, are the following:

  • Food Science and Technology
  • Environmental Protection, Safety and Management

The “EnRHEd” project has four ambitious objectives, to be achieved in three years to strengthen the employability of graduates: revision of current Curricula and the improvement of the didactic approach through the training of Professors and Staff in Rwanda; set up of new Master and PhD programmes; introduction of e-learning and technological improvement through the implementation of a virtual platform; promotion of internationalization of educational paths, based on exchanges that will develop in the mobility flows of Professors, Staff members and Students to and from Rwanda.

To understand the spirit of this project, it is very important to tell how it was born. Two years ago, Roberto Valentino, the project coordinator, was searching a new meaning of his academic activity. A dear friend of him from Rwanda, Mrs Enathe Marekabiri, suggested to take a week’s trip to her home country, “for a change of scenery”. Roberto Valentino left for Rwanda in August 2017.  At the time of departure, he did not know who he would meet or what he would do in Rwanda. He only knew that Fr Innocent Consolateur, a priest from Kigali in charge of the chaplaincy of the University of Rwanda, would welcome him and put him in touch with some Rwandan universities. As soon as he arrived, Fr Innocent Consolateur presented Prof Valentino to Fr Fabien Hagenimana, Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Applied Sciences INES-Ruhengeri, a private catholic university in north-western Rwanda.  In Ruhengeri, Prof Valentino met some professors and was asked to come back for a three-week cycle of lessons, for the Civil Engineering students. In the following months, a cooperation agreement was signed between the University of Parma and INES-Ruhengeri.

In January 2018 Prof Valentino taught a class of sixty-five Rwandan students for three weeks. The experience was so rich, both for him and for the students, that Vice Chancellor Fr Fabien Hagenimana invited him to return the following academic year to teach again at INES-Ruhengeri. He returned, this time for six weeks, at the end of 2018. In the meantime, during a visit to Italy, Fr Innocent Consolateur met some representatives of the University of Parma, among which Prof Nadia Monacelli, director of the University Centre for International Cooperation (CUCI). They all agreed to propose a second cooperation agreement between the University of Parma and the University of Rwanda. Thanks to the mediation of Fr Consolateur, this idea passed to Ambassador Dr Charles Murigande, Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Institutional Advancement at the University of Rwanda, who enthusiastically accepted the proposal. During the following Valentino’s stay in Rwanda, the foundations were laid for an international cooperation project, also thanks to the collaboration of other two European universities, namely University of Liège and RFH in Cologne. In the near past, both these European universities have had similar contacts with INES-Ruhengeri and other Rwandan Institutions to plan cooperation activities in different fields.

The project has been built on a network of meetings and personal relationships and the “weft” has expanded in the same way not only between but also internally at all the involved Institutions, thanks to the involvement of a fair number of teachers. In the drafting of the project, the institutional and technical support from the University of Parma, the leader applicant, was decisive. All involved people tried to build, even if in a relatively short time, a solid network, based on mutual trust, in a spirit of authentic collaboration. As it can be easily guess, the “EnRHEd” project will require close collaboration between colleagues from different fields and from different universities, both European and Rwandan. After having some preliminary meetings, the representatives of all partner Institutions agree that there are many challenges at stake and all of them are of a high level. It seems that all involved people are ready to take them up and relaunch.

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