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University project supports future scientists in Africa

24 April 2015

Nimibian staff members stood in row outside Cardiff School of Maths
Academics from The University of Namibia Maths department

Experts from Cardiff University are supporting future scientists in Africa who are failing to graduate because of poor maths knowledge.

Cardiff School of Mathematics is teaming up with counterparts in Namibia as part of The Phoenix Project, one of the University's five flagship engagement projects.

Nearly all science degree students at the University of Namibia (UNAM) must pass a maths qualification in their first year, but a lack of the necessary maths skills and knowledge has led to a high drop-out rate.

It means that potential scientists who could carry out crucial jobs in Namibia are failing to make the grade.

The faculty of Science is affected alongside others including Engineering and IT; Education; and Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

Professor Tim Phillips, head of Cardiff School of Mathematics at Cardiff, said: "The Phoenix Project provides the School with an opportunity to forge a mutually beneficial partnership with the department of mathematics at the University of Namibia.

"Working together we are exploring innovative teaching strategies to address student progression and developing a greater understanding of open source technology.

"Our mathematics students and staff in Namibia and Cardiff will benefit professionally, scientifically and culturally from participation in The Phoenix Project."

Three academics from the UNAM maths department are visiting Cardiff to discuss how the two universities can work together.

Proposals include a summer school to help science students improve their maths skills before starting their first year at UNAM.

Other plans include exploiting web-based resources and boosting teaching practices, while there is also scope for both universities to work together on mutual areas of research interest.

UNAM is also looking at setting up a centre for mathematics and applications at its campus in the Namibian capital Windhoek.

Dr Martin Mugochi, head of mathematics at UNAM, said: "I think this collaboration with Cardiff will go a very long way to making a big difference.

"It's a great engagement that must be encouraged to grow."

Professor Judith Hall, who is leading The Phoenix Project, said: "Even if we aren't born mathematicians, we still really need maths.  

"You can't build a solar energy plant without maths, or be a nurse or a chemist without maths.  

"Young people in Namibia often haven't had the opportunities that we have in Wales, so they fail their maths courses.  

"This project is designed to help them succeed in maths. Then they can work to make a difference for their own country."

The Phoenix Project, which supports the Welsh Government's Wales for Africa programme, is a mutually beneficial collaboration between Cardiff University and UNAM.

Staff from Cardiff University's three Colleges are directly involved, as are professional services staff in areas such as Libraries and Human Resources.

The project covers three broad areas: women, children and infectious diseases; science; and communication.

It is one of Cardiff University's flagship engagement projects, otherwise known as the Transforming Communities programme, which work with communities in Cardiff, Wales and beyond in areas including health, education and wellbeing.

This includes supporting Cardiff city-region, connecting communities through hyperlocal websites, building community engagement models in Cardiff and Merthyr, and working with the Welsh Government to help achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals.