UP and partners awarded EU grant to improve medical education in Southern Africa

Posted on September 02, 2020

The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), in partnership with Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Namibia and Welwitchia University, has been awarded a European Union (EU) grant valued at £1 million (about R23 million) to set up a medical capacity-building project called Dirisana.

The Dirisana project addresses one of the five strategic goals that UP’s Forensic Anthropology Research Centre has set: to improve the quality of medical education. UP is the principal coordinator of the project, and EU partners include Maastricht University, Finland University and University College Dublin.

“The faculty looks forward to collaborating and sharing knowledge with EU- and South Africa-based institutions to help improve teaching and learning in the Southern Africa region,” says Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “The Dirisana project will help institutions come up with innovative solutions to address various needs in medical education.”

This is the only grant to be awarded to South Africa in this round of funding. Out of the 1 005 applications submitted, 164 were selected for funding and of these grants, only two applications received the full funding of £1 million.

“This grant will go a long way to transforming and improving access to education in the health sciences; UP is honoured to be coordinating such a crucial capacity-building initiative,” says Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP Prof Tawana Kupe.

In terms of its focus on building capacity in medical education in SA, Dirisana is similar to UP’s Bakeng se Afrika (which aims to develop a digital repository of skeletal images for research and teaching purposes). The difference is that the Dirisana project involves the knowledge triangle (the interaction between research, education and innovation), through which it intends to strengthen relations between higher education institutions and the broader economic and social environment.

Dirisana will address educational issues related to training staff in education and management, critical thinking and writing skills, handling large classes and building better relationships across disciplines.

Dirisana is the brainchild of Professor Anna Oettlé, an Extraordinary Lecturer in the Department of Anatomy at UP. “Being awarded this grant has helped us to realise our envisaged possibilities and afforded us the opportunity to discover and learn much more through meeting new colleagues than anticipated,” she says. “The Dirisana project answers the need for corporation and communication with other institutions around the topic of teaching and learning, because together we can do much more.”

Professor Ericka Noelle L’Abbe, Director of the Forensic Anthropology Research Centre, said she is honoured to lead, manage and work with amazing colleagues who are both new acquaintances and old friends. “We have been granted an opportunity to build capacity within our institutions, and in doing so, we hope to make quality education at higher education institutions more accessible in the future. Collectively our words and our actions have power.”

The Dirisana project will also incorporate a variety of interdisciplinary research projects, which will lead to developing capacity at Sub-Saharan African institutions. Members within the Faculty of Health Sciences include the School of Health Systems and Public Health, the School of Medicine and the School of Health Care Sciences, as well as team members from UP Library’s MakerSpace.

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