Posted March 24th, 2017 by Tyler Irving

Strengthening educational capacity abroad through Academics Without Borders

  • Professor Jonathan Rose with lecturers from Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAiT) in Ethiopia in 2011. Rose, now a member of the board of Academics Without Borders, hopes to enable more professors to travel to the developing world to help strengthen academic institutions. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Rose)

For Professor Jonathan Rose (ECE), the realization came suddenly, as he walked home after a long day of work about six years ago.

“It just kind of struck me full-force,” he says. “I had done lots of different things in my career: research, teaching, administration and entrepreneurship, but all of it was for the developed world.”

In many developing countries, universities are limited in terms of the expertise needed to deliver their programs, particularly in disciplines such as engineering and medicine. Many students need to go abroad to pursue advanced degrees, and once there, Rose says, they tend not to come back.

“If you can train your own lawyers, doctors and engineers, you have a better chance of succeeding as a country,” says Rose. “I wanted help build that capacity.”

Rose started by calling Professor Yu-Ling Cheng (ChemE), director of the Centre for Global Engineering. Cheng is well connected to projects in the developing world, and pointed Rose toward the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration. For more than 15 years, the initiative has helped Addis Ababa University (AAU) strengthen its capacity and sustainability in a number of graduate training programs.

Two years later, Rose and his student Braiden Brousseau (then an ECE M.A.Sc. candidate) were on their way to Ethiopia to spend a month teaching digital systems and mobile phone programming to electrical engineering students at AAU. “It was a completely life-changing experience,” says Rose. “Everything I touched there was brand new to me.”

When he returned, Rose was keen to spread the word and expand the program. He joined the board of Academics Without Borders (AWB), an organization that works to improve and expand higher education in developing countries.

“We don’t tell universities how they ought to run themselves — instead we respond to requests from the partners we work with,” says Rose. “We also don’t bring students here. Professors and administrators from Canada volunteer their time to help develop new programs or organizations, and AWB funds their travel.”

Academics Without Borders has active projects in nearly a dozen countries worldwide, from Chile to Kenya to Nepal. While the organization already has more than 150 volunteers on its roster, Rose says it is always looking for more.

“If you watch what’s going on in the world, there is such a need for what a university provides,” says Rose.