“This is just the beginning of RESCIF's success”

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The Network of Excellence in Engineering Sciences of the French-speaking Community (RESCIF), which was created at EPFL in 2011, will now be chaired by the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire. The handover took place in Jully at EPFL.

Seven years ago, the presidents of 14 technological universities in both the northern and southern hemispheres gathered at EPFL to launch the Network of Excellence in Engineering Sciences of the French-speaking Community (RESCIF). As EPFL had been behind the initiative and would serve as host, it made sense for it to initially take the chair and fulfill the Network’s administrative functions.

A new chapter in the Network’s history began today. Back on EPFL’s Lausanne campus, the current presidents of the original group of universities, as well as representatives of two schools that have since joined the Network, handed the RESCIF chairmanship over to Koffi N’Guessan, Director General of the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny (INP-HB) in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.

It was great to be involved in setting up so many RESCIF projects, especially the various joint labs that we’ve created and the MOOCs program for Africa,” says EPFL President Martin Vetterli. “I’m delighted to see that such a prestigious institution from the southern hemisphere will be at the helm, and I wish the Network every success. It will of course continue to have our unfailing support.”

Let’s take a look back at RESCIF’s early years with Yuri Changkakoti, the Network’s Secretary General until recently

How did RESCIF manage to go from a mere statement of intent to an effective network with so many successes under its belt in just a few years?

The initiative first came to be at the Francophonie Summit held in Montreux in 2010. Micheline Calmy-Rey and Patrick Aebischer immediately got behind the project. The Network’s founding act was signed soon afterwards. What’s truly remarkable is the trust that we were able to build among the partners from the outset. This was no doubt helped by the fact that we were all aware how important a real north-south partnership was for the modernization of our partner institutions.

What has actually been achieved?

One of the driving forces behind RESCIF was the MOOCs designed specifically for Africa, which went hand in hand with EPFL’s commitment to invest in this new form of higher education. And the program came at just the right time – there was a lot of demand from our partners in Africa, where the number of young people is growing and there is a real need to train experts.

Has the Network been a boon for research as well?

Yes, very much so. We’ve set up four joint labs. EPFL is directly involved in all of them to some extent. While two are still getting on their feet, two others – CURES, in Cameroon, and CARE, in Vietnam – have already published numerous scientific articles. Dozens of researchers have visited these labs for projects and training and as part of exchanges. And that’s only the beginning of what the network has achieved. Things were relatively slow to get off the ground, but we are now notching up a growing number of concrete results.

Is there anything about how RESCIF is run that could have been or should now be done differently?

It’s a bit of a pipe dream, but I think the network lacks some central funding. That would make it easier to organize more regular meetings of experts in our priority areas, which are water, energy, health care, nutrition, urban planning and entrepreneurship. These types of scientific gatherings would help to increase the number of projects and deliver even more results.

«It was great to be involved in setting up so many RESCIF projects, especially the various joint labs that we’ve created and the MOOCs program for Africa

What’s next?

We’re going to continue with the MOOCs, by both creating joint MOOCs and helping our partners to build their own capacities. And an entrepreneurship program is also in the works. Our partners are really keen on making computational thinking a key field. EPFL will be ‘testing’ this concept starting in September. And our partner universities are likely to follow our lead, either through MOOCs or classroom learning.

Are you nervous about handing things over?

Not at all, I’m actually delighted that INP-HB is taking the reins. It was important that the network wasn’t just an EPFL ‘thing’ and that the chairmanship alternated between the north and the south. I have great confidence in our successors. And it does not all depend on the chair either: RESCIF may have reached cruising speed, but keeping this Network going over the long term is not easy – it remains a daily challenge. That’s why the ongoing support of all the partner institutions is essential.

Four joint laboratories:

CRAPU – Centre de Recherche et d’Appui aux Politiques Urbaines

CESAM – Centre d’Etude sur la Sécurité Alimentaire et les Molécules fonctionnelle

CURES – Centre Universitaire de Recherche sur l’Energie pour la Santé

CARE – Centre Asiatique de Recherche sur l’Eau

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