On a global stage, Australian higher education is recognised for its high quality. With several of its leading universities rated in the world’s top 100, Australia’s pursuit of excellence in higher education is reflected in its commitment to outstanding research and teaching facilities. Consistently achieving innovative solutions to real-world problems, Australia is also considered a global research leader in the higher education realm.
With its world-class reputation, an Australian tertiary education is an opportunity made possible for African scholars by the Australia Awards – Africa program. Australia Awards provides quality access to postgraduate education and training for qualified candidates from eligible African countries, including scholarships at Masters, PhD and Fellowship level. For African scholars, a postgraduate qualification from an Australian institution garners international recognition and potentially strengthens their ability to contribute to the development of their country and region on return from the award.
Among the African scholars who have recognised the importance of an Australian Postgraduate Scholarship are Koena Mathekga, Fredrick Mulapa and Rose Aawulenaa. All three scholars completed an Australia Awards – Africa Fellowship in 2013 in key sectors for African development: agriculture, water and sanitation and technical education. Buoyed by this experience, each of them were inspired to pursue long-term studies in an Australian higher education institution and succeeded in receiving a second scholarship to pursue Masters studies in Australia.
After completing a Fellowship Award in Water Harvesting and Small-scale Irrigation in late 2013, South African Koena Mathekga decided to actively pursue his passion for irrigation. He is currently undertaking a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture at Charles Sturt University in Orange and is determined to become an expert in the field of irrigation.
Since completing his Fellowship, Koena continues to build on the ideas and knowledge gained, planning to contribute to a major national irrigation project in South Africa on his return as Irrigation Adviser for the Free State Province under the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. His contribution will focus on three areas of need: provincial irrigation expansion, the revitalisation of collapsed irrigation schemes and a water rights project that looks at water allocation policy.
Koena is appreciative of the opportunity to continue his education in Australia. “‘What I enjoy most about my current Masters program is the fact that it is an eye opener with regard to the importance of sustainability in agriculture. I am acquiring a broadened view of my field, coupled with the ability to think holistically and to more appropriately address matters in my field,” he says.
Similar to Koena, Zambia’s Fredrick Mulapa views his Australia Award as a long-term investment in his education. Fredrick completed a Fellowship in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) skills upgrade in 2013, looking specifically at the design of educational programs. During the Fellowship, he designed a program on laser machine alignment that would build staff capability in his home country. One year on and he is pursuing a Masters in Engineering Science at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, seeking to specialise in manufacturing and management, while aiming to become a professor on return. For Fredrick, this has been a long-term goal.
“I would like to make a difference in the college where I teach when I return. Apart from developing learning material for students, I would also would like to engage in technical consultations with the local industries and organisations that need technical and management expertise. I would also like our department to teach more courses. The skills and knowledge gained during my Australian studies will be fundamental for the achievement of these goals,” he explains.
For Rose Aawulenaa from Ghana, transitioning from a Fellowship to an Australia Award Masters degree has been a rewarding experience. She is pursuing a Masters in Agricultural Science at the University of Western Australia in Perth, after completing a Fellowship in Post-harvest Management of Maize, Rice and Legumes in 2013.
Through her Fellowship, Rose began looking at how she could improve post-harvest management in Ghana through community consultation, the education of female farmers and the establishment of a consultative team. Her decision to pursue long-term studies came as a result of the realisation that she would need an in-depth understanding of key agricultural issues in order to make more meaningful contributions in this area.
“So many reasons culminated in my quest to apply for this Masters degree. First and foremost, a lot of issues are evolving in the agricultural sector and I need to understand what these structural changes are and what is needed to meet the challenges facing the sector,” explains Rose.
In her role as Agricultural Officer-In-Charge of Women in Agricultural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Rose is excited to make the most of her study opportunity in Australia. She plans to apply the skills and knowledge acquired to the Ghanaian context with a focus on women and children in rural and urban disadvantaged areas.
Rose, Fredrick and Koena reflect on the value placed on an Australian higher education by African professionals. Their enthusiasm and plans to translate this experience into concrete benefits to their home countries on return are testament to the potential of higher education scholarships to shape outcomes in Africa.