17 Dec 2012

Open University embarks on innovative partnership building project with the British Council in Sub Saharan Africa

The Open University (OU) has begun a partnership-building project with the British Council in Sub Saharan Africa. This follows on from the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by The Open University and The British Council in 2011, at which time the Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean, was elected to the British Council’s Board of Trustees, and discussions between the two organisations identified English language teaching and learning as a shared area of interest.

The OU and the British Council Sub Saharan Africa Exchange Project is a collaboration between the British Council and three departments in the OU’s Faculty of Education and Language Studies (FELS):

- The English Language Teaching section of the Department of Languages (OpenELT)

- The International Teacher Training section of the Department of Education

- The Centre for Language and Communication

It is hoped that both organisations will build on the foundations established through these exchanges to engage in shared ELT development initiatives in the Sub Saharan Africa region.

Dr Jim Donohue, Head of Open ELT, said of the collaboration: “The OU has a strong tradition of supporting the professional development of English language teachers and of direct English language teaching. Collaborating with the British Council in ELT has always been an attractive proposition and with this project we hope to find out how to make that ambition a reality. We have a wide range of ELT products and processes which we have developed in response to particular needs and particular contexts. The British Council has its own wide range of products, processes, projects and contact networks in countries across the Sub Saharan Africa region. Working together, our two institutions could find ways of enhancing the contributions we are each separately making to the educational provision of other organisations in Sub Saharan Africa.”

A series of job exchanges have been designed in which two academics from the OU shadow British Council staff in Ethiopia and Kenya, followed by a visit from the two British Council staff to The Open University in early 2013. The OU visits commenced last month, with a two-week visit to Addis Ababa by OU Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics Caroline Coffin. The purpose of Professor Coffin’s visit was institutional knowledge exchange and relationship building in which each institution comes to understand the organization and modus operandi of the other.

Whilst in Ethiopia Professor Coffin shadowed British Council English Language Adviser, Ronnie Micallef. As Professor Coffin explained: “By the end of the two weeks shadowing Ronnie, I learnt so much more about what the British Council does in the region. We are beginning to understand where both organizations interface and where we can maximize our partnership. We are particularly interested in identifying areas where more can be done on bringing language and content together in the teaching learning process, not as separate entities, as in my opinion, language is content.’

Ronnie Micallef explains “This partnership is a great opportunity to find out the strengths of The Open University and celebrate and share British Council strengths and achievements in return. Africa is evolving rapidly in the area of ELT and so by working together we will have more power and potential to match the pace of this evolution. What is more, by understanding each other better, we can potentially begin to position ourselves as preferred partners in the field of ELT across the continent.”

In January, Dr Chris Walsh of the OU’s Faculty of Education and Language Studies will go on the second of the OU placements. He will be located in Kenya with the British Council ELT Digital Manager for Sub Saharan Africa and will also be visiting Tanzania and Ethiopia. In February, both British Council counterparts will visit the OU for a reciprocal two week placement.

About the OU’s International Development Office (IDO)

The Open University’s IDO works alongside academic experts within the OU, such as those in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies, to create and deliver scalable development programmes and teaching and research initiatives which positively impact developing countries. IDO is providing some funding towards the costs of Professor Coffin and Dr Walsh’s flights and ‘in country’ expenses.

Our teaching and education expertise directly addresses skills and leadership gaps, improves governance, boosts economies and drives social, technological and entrepreneurial innovation.
Our research, often in partnership with multiple institutions and stakeholders, is concentrated on pressing areas of need including medicine, international policy, health economics and English language teaching.

Our programmes combine the OU's development, distance learning and academic expertise with practical implementation plans delivered in partnership with governments, NGOs and in-country experts to impact the lives of millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

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