Managing the Rise of University Global Health Partnerships

The opportunity to partner with a well-endowed institution will always be attractive from the perspective of a less-endowed institution, but as new partners seek to enter the African health market through higher education, institutions that are already working in these communities should set the ground rules.

For anyone concerned with international development on the African continent there are two fields that require our immediate attention: tertiary education and public health. Not to say that these are more important than other areas of development, but they do have massive implications for the global economy and human rights.

According to the United Nations report on World Population Prospects, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050, reaching approximately 2.4 billion people, from 1.2 billion currently. Meanwhile, the state of public health in African countries has been well-documented as being in dire need of reform. Yet, national governments and their respective agencies have only been able to accomplish so much on their own due to challenges of corrupt governance, weak infrastructure and lack of resources.

The World Health Organization posits that Global Health Partnerships offer support in achieving goals of reducing health inequality that organisations could not reach alone.

Linking tertiary education and public health is significant because colleges and universities play a unique role in solving health challenges, from treating non-communicable disease to HIV/AIDS. From my time observing higher education institutions in Nigeria, I’ve discovered tremendous amounts of human capital with simply inadequate facilities. This is a major reason why the opportunity to partner with a well-endowed institution will always be attractive from the perspective of a less-endowed institution.

As the world awaits the much-anticipated ‘African Renaissance’, observers are expecting colleges and universities to lead the way. However, we must recognise that participating in a system dominated by Western institutions has major implications that are both explicit and implicit. Thus, this scenario speaks to a topic heavily debated amongst pan-African scholars: whether to de-link from or participate in the market-driven field of globalisation.

I am of the opinion that cross-border higher education collaborations will undoubtedly continue to rise and therefore should be administered in the best interests of the public good. For all who are following university global health partnerships, I am putting forward three points of consideration while observing the field based on examples from current cases.

Recognise levels of participation – US 

I applaud the efforts of all institutions working to improve global health but also recognise that definitions of equity and social justice might be different. For example, a recent article published by NPR exposes a problematic approach to how the American College of Physicians prepared guidelines for ethical obligations during short-term global health partnerships in low-resource countries.

The initiative was well-intended in its effort to establish an approach to partner reciprocity; however, they failed to include any authors from representatives of the developing countries mentioned. Thus, the position paper will be circulated widely as the ‘standard’ for operating in African countries based on the perceptions of outsiders.

This missed opportunity highlights ways in which even well-intentioned approaches to equitable collaborations can widely miss their mark. Questions to consider when forming partnerships are how do we define ‘partnership’ and how might definitions change across contexts (time, space and partners)?

Internal instability reflects externally – Nigeria 

The Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) builds interdisciplinary collaborations and facilitates the sharing of knowledge to address global health challenges. At the time of this writing, the home page of the CUGH proudly lists the University of Ibadan (UI) College of Medicine in Nigeria as its newest member institution. With this association, UI now joins an elite group of ‘world-class’ institutions offering health programmes, from Harvard to Seoul National University.

When I first started working in an international office at a university, my director would always use the excuse of a country not being ‘safe enough’. However shallow, this belief is widely held and limits the creation of new partnerships with institutions in less-developed countries. Just last month, over 100 students of the UI College of Medicine assembled a protest in resistance to increasing university fees. Such protests happening at higher education institutions in Nigeria have become a reoccurring hinderance to progressive development.

I wonder how this protest and others might affect the perception of partners with the UI College of Medicine? My point here is that without having smooth internal governance, higher education institutions in Nigeria and other African countries should be wary of bringing partners into unstable environments.

The market is open – Rwanda 

A bolder approach to global health is provided by the non-profit organisation Partners in Health, which is gearing up to launch the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Butaro, Rwanda by January 2019.

UGHE will be a fully residential campus offering academic degree programmes with a “mission of teaching focused on health care delivery”. This strategy bypasses partnership with Rwandan universities and establishes a university on its own. The investment will absorb the demand for health education where little advancement would have been made otherwise.

In recognition of global health’s controversial history of unethical practices, we are seeing buzz words like ‘equity’ and ‘social justice’ used in partnership discourse to counter the unequal balance of power.

Michelle Morse, deputy chief medical officer for Partners in Health, states that “attention to the guiding principle of reciprocity and a focus on research to build capacity and public sector strength should help to prevent this imbalance” of US domination in research activities.

The opening of branch campuses like UGHE in foreign countries is made possible in part by the introduction of tertiary education to the list of tradeable services within the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Although UGHE is based in Rwanda, its parent company, Partners in Health, is headquartered in Boston and the board of directors is largely comprised of Americans.

If the UGHE case proves to be a success, then I foresee an increasing number of private corporations following suit in what some are considering a ‘21st century scramble for Africa’.


Global health partnerships are attractive because they provide a myriad solutions to current, critical needs in African countries. At the same time, engagement is bound to persist based on the reality of local needs and a universal recognition of the benefits to partnership.

The role of higher education within all of this should not be underestimated. Colleges and universities in Africa that have schools of health should be at the forefront of addressing challenges faced by local citizens.

As new partners seek to enter the African health market through higher education, institutions that are already working in these communities should set the ground rules. Keeping in mind democratic principles when collaborating is a solid framework but individuals who will serve as change agents are needed.

End of the Semester

The official 2018 note card for the University of Minnesota, Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, & Development featuring Obafemi Ogunleye.

The title says it all. But even more than just the end of a semester, it is also the end of my first year in a doctoral program and I have a lot to unpack. Although I won’t share everything here, I think it might be useful to reflect on this.

I remember walking into this program academically confident with maybe a hint of arrogance but all of that has quickly been stripped away. I’m now learning first-hand the levels of intellectual capacity and unwavering dedication needed to compete in the field of academia.

Looking at professors as peers is a lens that carries heightened responsibility and anxiety. Now, my thoughts and work must compliment or expand on the work of leading scholars in the field…No pressure!

But this challenge is why we enroll. To test the limits of our knowledge and contribute to discussions in our respective areas of interest. I’m learning to accept the challenge and feel confident in my ability to succeed.

Lessons Learned from the Semester

In this blog, I want to share three quick lessons learned from the semester: use the faculty, manage your schedule, and build your profile.

1. Use the Faculty

In the same sense that seeing faculty as peers can be intimidating, there is also a slant to this that can be beneficial. By having experienced faculty members partly responsible for your academic training offers a certain level of insight to knowledge that might be unattainable anywhere else. For example, an outsider wanting to submit a grant proposal to a funding agency might have to rely on his/her own skills set when formulating a submission. However, if you are surrounded by good faculty, then a couple will most likely have been on a review panel and know exactly what other reviewers in the field will be looking for. Such a resource is invaluable and can lead to individual advancement if engaged properly.

2. Schedule Management

During this semester, I’ve worked 3 part-time jobs while taking 5 graduate level courses and managing to fit in personal affairs. Even as busy as I think I am, I always consider that there are much more important people than myself who have crazier schedules and this motivates me to better manage my time.

The calendar is becoming more of a reality. It used to be something that sounded productive but at this point it is a necessity that provides many benefits. I actually want to challenge myself to stick to my calendar more rigorously and see what changes might come. Imagine if one could create a calendar that strategically led to desired results. Meeting goals and objectives would be nothing but a matter of time. I’ve seen some initial benefits and want to see what more I can accomplish.

*Included in your calendar should be adequate time for reading more than the required materials.

3. Build Your Profile

As a professional in any field, its important to understand your personal mission and characteristics of your profile. Aligning this professional profile to your current and future career work seems to be an obvious strategic priority. For example, me being in a Comparative and International Development Education program track directly aligns with my interest in the field of higher education internationalization. As I develop myself and better understand specific areas in the field, the two tasks build off of one another.

I am fortunate to have been awarded a fellowship for the upcoming semester as well as offered a position to work on a summer program that will boost my credentials. These opportunities have been strategically sought out and pursued. In recognition of the potential rewards and benefits, I will seek to secure additional sources of external funding and professional development opportunities.


Overall, I am ending the semester on a positive note with high hopes for the future. Even though my time is short in the program, if I continue to critically reflect on my experiences then I’m sure it will be well spent.

To be honest, I feel like this journey is tough and there may be areas that I do not do as well in when compared to others. Yet, with persistence I will eventually learn enough to graduate.

Feel free to share your thoughts and/or experiences in the comments.



5 Key Takeaways from CIES 2018

Featured Image: Dr. Moses Oketch speaking during the Learning and Development panel session at the Hilton Reforma, Mexico City, March 27, 2018. (From left to right: Sylvia Schmelkes del Valle, Dr. Dan Wagner, Dr. Amita Chudgar, Dr. Rafael de Hoyos, and Dr. Luis Crouch). 

For emerging scholars, attending academic conferences can be a great way to remain current on relevant work in your field, network with colleagues from around the world, and develop professionally. This past week, I attended the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) 2018 conference in Mexico City, MX with the intention of doing all of those things and more.As a first year doctoral student trying to find my place in the field of international and comparative education, this was a space for me to closely observe the industry and develop upon how to frame my research and practice. In this blog, I will share 5 key takeaways related to making the most of a conference experience. Although this post has been inspired by the CIES conference, the information can be generally applied to any academic conference.

1. Plan well in advance. Conferences are planned years in advance for a reason; Fitting the time in to our schedules to attend is a significant challenge and sacrifice.

As soon as you confirm your participation in a particular conference, you should go ahead and begin making travel arrangements for components that can be secured. I purchased my flight and Air BnB reservation approximately four months in advance which provided a decent rate and peace of mind concerning accommodations.

In addition to logistics, you will have to consider how time at the conference will interfere with your workload. Many conferences are held in the middle of the semester and students are still expected to be on top of their class work just like professors. Therefore, it is advisable to complete as much work as possible prior to leaving so that you aren’t worrying about other assignments and responsibilities when you should be making the most of your limited conference time.

2. Develop multiple elevator speeches. We have all heard the importance of crafting an elevator speech for speaking to strangers about our work. However, considering the multi-dimensional nature of scholarship and the diverse groups of people we come across, I believe developing multiple elevator speeches is more useful.

For instance, an elevator speech which highlights your dissertation would be relevant for a potential co-author, or editor but if you were talking with grant-makers then you might want to focus on your past project management experience instead of your dissertation.  Professionals who manage multiple projects on different levels do a good job of code-switching to facilitate meaningful conversations.

3. Divide and conquer. The number of sessions, meetings, receptions, workshops, round-tables, etc. can be overwhelming and overlapping. Instead of spreading yourself thin, I suggest teaming up with colleagues you trust and split up to review predetermined events.

True story: On the first day of the conference, I was in back-to-back activities from 8 am to 7:30 pm…Never again! Yes, I discovered a ton of valuable information but by the end of the day my anxiety combined with restlessness began to show on my face and I could only think about getting out of the hotel. To avoid a similar situation, it would be wise to pace yourself and schedule efficiently so that you sustain your energy for the long-haul.

4. Respect yourself. Us Nigerians have a common and simple saying; “Respect yourself”. Even though a conference typically lasts 3-5 days, your reputation lasts a lifetime and news spreads quickly within any industry, especially academia.

If you are using the conference as an opportunity for professional development (which you should be), then you will want to conduct yourself professionally at all times. I understand that we work hard year-round and deserve a break but an academic conference should not be attended with a “what happens in (blank), stays in (blank)” mentality. The issue of respectability becomes particularly pertinent when alcohol is involved. I am not saying that having a drink or two is bad but I am saying that you should respect yourself.

In my opinion, it can come off as immature or irresponsible when conference attendees show the most excitement towards drinking and partying during these few days. In addition, if one goes over his/her limit in public there can be major ramifications (which I did observe and will keep to myself for now).

5. Network strategically. Disclaimer: This takeaway is instrumental and political.

Networking can be a vague term that doesn’t come with instructions. While some network naturally, others find it more difficult. Either way, networking is an important component of career development.

The amount of time and energy it takes to discuss our grand ideas can add up and it’s important to consider what sort of return you might be getting on this investment. When time is limited, the worst thing one can do is spend 30 minutes having a conversation that does not contribute to your agenda. To ensure that you engage in meaningful exchanges during a conference, I recommend for attendees to do two things; a) predetermine “must-meet” people of interest and b) identify topics that can help build your work.

Using the former strategy, you are guaranteed quality content from an established figure in your field. For me, people of interest that I needed to meet were Drs. Moses Oketch, Fabrice Jaumont, and Jose Cossa, among others. For the people I was not able to meet in person, I took to social media and was able to gain access to presentation documents via twitter which was a benefit of technology. In addition, if you are not able to schedule time to meet with a person of interest, then the next best thing is to attend a session they are presenting in.

As an alternative to the rigid structure of predetermining specific people to network with, then you can choose topics that you want to learn more about and find people to talk with based on that. This approach allows for a more natural flow of conversation with other attendees. By just speaking with a random person while getting coffee in the morning, I was introduced to a session that I was not aware of and ended up featuring a person of interest as well as new scholars that I was not aware of. Natural encounters like this usually make for the best stories.

In summary, these are only a few of many takeaways that were produced upon reflection of my CIES 2018 experience. Feel free to comment with feedback or additional points of consideration that you think should be added.


Death & Rebirth: Temple University and the Community

A Chapter Review by Obafemi Ogunleye

Chapter Title & Book: Using Ethnographic Methods to Understand Universities and Neoliberal Development in North Central Philadelphia, Learning under Neoliberalism


In her chapter of Learning under Neoliberalism, Susan Brin Hyatt looks at ways in which corporate interests are invading academic settings and the communities where they are located. The study stems from an ethnographic research project carried out in 2013 by Hyatt and her students at Temple University focused on the experience of North Philadelphia residents regarding change in the area. The semester long project was titled, ‘The Death and Rebirth of North Central Philadelphia’.

The specific context of Temple is situated within trends across the U.S. where elite universities, typically situated near “poor, black” neighborhoods, attempt to re-brand communities through “urban renewal” projects. This chapter is timely, considering the recent protests this week at Temple University regarding plans of building another sports facility in the community.

In the following sections, I will briefly describe the Death & Rebirth research project at Temple University then share how it connects to neoliberalism in higher education.

Project Background

To begin, I must say that I am inspired by Hyatt’s approach at conducting truly ethnographic research that collaboratively involves not only the community but her students as well. By partnering with a local community development corporation (Renaissance Community Development Corporation), the project gained access to a network of resources that proved to be critical. Students enrolled in Hyatt’s Ethnographic Methods course at Temple University were assigned to select research projects they were interested in within the area. The students were then sent out to ask two sets of questions;

  • Do you believe that at some point, North Central Philadelphia did die? When do you think this happened and why do you think it happened?
  • Is North Central Philadelphia now in a process of rebirth? If so, when do you think this rebirth began? Which individuals or organizations do you think have been most active in bringing about this rebirth? Why?

Although, I can appreciate the attempt to make use of symbolic terminology, I feel like associating the community with death was a failure on the authors part, which is a point also reflected in the chapter. Nonetheless. respondents still provided rich information that spoke to ways in which the university played a part in community development.  Data from this research went on to become published in both academic journals and local newspapers.

Project Findings

Hyatt mentions in the chapter that she uncovered far more than she ever expected to when getting into the project. The research reveals a long history of campus expansion further into the North Central Philadelphia community through private acquisition and eminent domain (compulsory purchase). One main reason for such an urgency in renovating the area was the media’s portrayal and public perception of the community surrounding Temple as a “ghetto”, which made it difficult to attract top talent. The president from 1981-2000, Peter J Liacouras, is regarded as an instrumental figure in the “urban planning” associated with the university, and launched the iconic, “Temple Town” initiative.


“Temple Town” was a multi-million dollar development project designed to move the institution from a commuter school to a residential campus and ultimately attract more affluent students. With such a project comes displacement of residents already living in this area who are seen as victims of circumstance and expected to fend for themselves. The chapter provides details of specific moves that were made on behalf of the university to strategically acquire properties for its growth without considering input from community members. Issues include; private partnerships, legal reform, unfulfilled agreements, and more.

Universities and Neoliberal Development

An advertisement for the sale of Temple University Student Housing Portfolio by CBRE.

Hyatt definitely takes a critical view of neoliberalism within U.S. universities and highlights how it has become a tool for advancing the marginalization and under-representation of surrounding communities. She also juxtaposes this population with private elites who are seen as far more influential in dealings with university leaders. This brings us back to the common question of whether higher education is a public good or private investment, or is it on a spectrum and how does that work?

Me being new to the scholarship concerning neoliberalism, I have been exposed to new ways of viewing university development through this chapter. Hyatt posits that when “urban renewal” takes place, it is private real-estate developers and corporations who reap the  benefits. Furthermore, across the board for higher education governance, we can see the outsourcing of departments in an attempt to “maximize profits and minimize costs”. The problem is not necessarily that organizations are making profit but that the organizations have no connection to the communities that they are working in and do little or nothing to cater to local needs. For a refresher, a short list of privatized goods and services at many higher education institutions include;

  • student housing
  • food services
  • sports and entertainment centers
  • student recruitment
  • study abroad programming
  • bookstores
  • security services
  • janitorial services
  • and more…

Many of these items are seen as necessary to outsource due to decreasing amounts of funding from state and federal agencies. After all, where exactly will the money come from? For some, enterprising institutions are seen as engines for economic growth which should find ways to generate revenues and be self-sufficient; all for the greater good. In response to neoliberal supporters, Hyatt agrees that higher education institutions hire large numbers of people but reminds us that these positions are typically, low-wage jobs with minimal access to university benefits.

I think this debate is complex yet necessary and projects like Death & Rebirth do a good job of guiding the conversation. I’m looking forward to reading more studies that use ethnography as an approach to critical research in this same vein. Feel free to share your thoughts and let me know if you end up reading the chapter/book.


Learning Under Neoliberalism: A Preview to the Review

As part of a class assignment that left me with a need to do extra reading, I picked up ‘Learning under Neoliberalism: Ethnographies of Governance in Higher Education, edited by Susan B. Hyatt, Boone W. Shear, and Susan Wright. So far, I have found it to be very informative and see it as text that can help shape my understanding of how neoliberal policies play out in “real life”.

The topic of neoliberalism in higher education is critical to me for two main reasons; 1) an interest in the consequences of market-driven reform and 2) a need to situate myself within current debates among scholars.

My understanding of neoliberalism can be described as the process of deregulating industries while adopting free market principles that strengthen the power of capitalism. Through this lens, knowledge is a commodity and the business of higher education becomes more influenced by private interests than public good. This post is not seeking to determine whether or not neoliberalism is “good” or “bad”, but to share my analysis on chapters from the book so followers can learn along with me.

For now, I am simply introducing the topic but stay tuned until next week when I share my first chapter review. Also, feel free to send me any questions or insight you might have on the topic.

Best regards,


Resources, Governance, and Perception

If you had to choose one industry to invest in and help develop an entire geographic region, which industry would you choose? Let’s say this region was West Africa.

This question pops into my mind a lot. However, it is not a fair question considering that it takes multiple sectors working together to impart true, sustainable change. But to play along, my response is always the industry of education, specifically higher education based on its implications on workforce and economic development.

Colleges and universities are unique institutions which have the potential to advance individuals and communities through different strategic approaches. Unfortunately, if these institutions are poorly resourced, poorly governed, and poorly perceived, then they simply serve as symbols of untapped potential.

The tertiary education industry needs some shaking up by innovative leaders who are committed to placing more African institutions in the category of “world-class”. Meanwhile, we must create our own definition of “world-class”, which is evaluated more around the effect on local livelihood and less on western hegemony. Only then will African communities begin to realize the full potential of knowledge and freedom combined.

I encourage all of my peers to identify key industries of interest that they feel passionate about contributing to. Choose your industry carefully and be aware of the associated challenges as we push the continent into the 21st century.


Introduction to YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative)


The expanding world of higher education contributes to international development through unique and innovative methods. One such initiative enacted under President Barack Obama in 2014 is the Mandela Washington Fellowship which has brought thousands of young African leaders to American colleges and universities for training in civic leadership, business & entrepreneurship, and public management. During this 6 week academic and leadership institute, participants will learn from experienced faculty while working alongside community partners and peer collaborators.

The Department of State in collaboration with IREX partners with higher education institutions to plan, develop, and execute intensive academic and leadership institutes during the summer of each year. 39 colleges and universities are participating in the 2017 session, including;

  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Florida International University
  • Howard University
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • and more..

My following posts will explore the institutions and fellows participating in the initiative and ways in which they administer their respective programs.

For more information on the Young African Leaders Initiative, visit