Michigan’s long-term commitment in West and East Africa provides a rich model for symbiotic global education, argues Mark S. Schlissel.
Research universities have enormous potential to deliver meaningful change in areas of the world facing severe resource challenges. Global education that focuses on mutual benefits among partners is the key that can unlock that potential.
When physician Tim Johnson first travelled to Ghana in 1986, the West African nation had just five obstetricians serving a population of 12 million. While many Ghanaians trained in medicine abroad, few came back to work in their home country.
Three years later, Johnson led the University of Michigan in a partnership with medical schools in Ghana that would address two major challenges for the country: training Ghanaian physicians at home and combating high rates of maternal mortality.
Retaining trained healthcare providers in developing countries is a primary factor in improving health outcomes and achieving UN Millennium Development Goals to improve maternal health and reduce child mortality.
Under the programme established by the Michigan-Ghana collaboration, 142 physicians have been trained and 141 are still in the country.
The blueprint established by Johnson, now chair of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Michigan, led to a formal charter in 2009 between Ghana and Michigan that outlines both sides’ common responsibilities to clinical service, research and education.
Since then, additional projects have taken off in the country. Built on a foundation of trust and reciprocity, these projects involve scholars and students from disciplines including engineering, public health, history, and art and design. This summer, 20 Michigan undergraduates will live with 20 local students in Kumasi, Ghana. Together they will learn entrepreneurship and how to assess technology needs.
The success in Ghana is an example of Michigan’s approach to global education. It is deeply rooted in the university’s culture and public ethos, which seeks to co-create mutual opportunities for its students and academics with people and communities abroad.
Michigan’s approach begins with collaboration. Academics develop relationships with local colleagues in areas such as education, industry and government, with the aim of fostering long-term benefits for both sides. Together the partners examine problems from the local point of view and work to craft locally driven solutions. It is about being partners, not competitors. These collaborations allow for increases in capacity, as starting “small” gives successful ideas room to grow.
The final part of the Michigan approach is to leverage the lessons learned from the collaborations and capacity building into initiatives that cross disciplines, regions and even international borders. The result is a lasting contribution that inspires more collaboration.
Senait Fisseha, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Michigan, is using this approach in Ethiopia to address a maternal mortality rate that is among the highest in the world.
Fisseha was born in Ethiopia and met Johnson during her residency at Michigan. Her passion was to work in her native country: at Johnson’s recommendation, she began building relationships with academics, health professionals and government officials there.
Her meetings with the Ethiopian health minister in 2011 led to a partnership between Michigan and St Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, based in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
The “Ghana model” had inspired action in a nation on the other side of the continent.
The collaboration initially resulted in a programme to train physicians – with those instructed in Ghana helping to launch the Ethiopian programme – but because of Michigan’s long history in Africa, the seeds for something bigger had already been sown.
Michigan students at all levels and staff from disciplines across the full campus are involved. Projects include setting up a computer lab at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology to give Ethiopian students access to equipment needed for education in technology; and academics are exploring providing Amharic language instruction for Michigan students in Ethiopia.
Nearly 50 investigators from 15 Michigan Medical School departments are now involved in Ethiopia. Student volunteers from the university are engaging in valuable experiential learning under an Ethiopian health ministry programme that provides exposure to medical conditions that are rare in the US.
Fisseha recently received a $25 million (£16.4 million) grant that will allow her to create a centre for reproductive health training in her home country. It will increase the number of health professionals in Africa who can provide life-saving reproductive healthcare, especially to women from poor backgrounds.
Michigan’s approach to global education – collaboration, capacity building and leveraging, all driven by mutual benefits – is working all over the world, with programmes developed on six continents. To help build further momentum, the university has expanded its reach through websites translated into Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish.
Universities have the ability to make sustainable, decades-long commitments in nations where there are no short-term solutions. And with the right approach, we can provide learning opportunities and partnerships that provide immense value around the world and here in Ann Arbor.
Mark S. Schlissel
President, University of Michigan