The Office of International Research, Education, and Development at Virginia Tech has won a highly competitive federal planning grant to develop a strategic capacity-building partnership with universities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 200 institutions of higher education across the country competed to receive one of 20 planning grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Higher Education for Development that will put the recipients in a strong position to receive more funding at a later date. The move by USAID signals recognition of the importance that higher education must play in the development of Africa.

The initiative was proposed during the April 2008 Higher Education Summit for Global Development in Washington and subsequent regional summit in Rwanda in October. “We are delighted to see this effort moving forward and expect great results from these planning grants,” said Joseph Carney, director of USAID’s Office of Education.

Virginia Tech proposes to work with two universities in Southern Sudan — the University of Juba and Catholic University of Sudan — to develop and strengthen programs in agriculture and natural resource management. Through the grant, Virginia Tech faculty will work with faculty and administrators of the two universities as well as key officials in the government of Southern Sudan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The program will develop a strategic plan for effective teaching, research, and extension programs in the food-insecure, post-conflict region.

“This region has recently emerged from nearly a half century of civil war that killed or displaced millions and destroyed nearly all educational infrastructure,” said Michael Bertelsen, associate director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development. “The challenges facing the universities are enormous. Receiving this grant and the opportunity to work with our Southern Sudanese colleagues on this potentially long-term partnership is an honor as well as a wonderful opportunity for Virginia Tech. We have much to offer and much to learn.”

The awarding of this grant means that the Office of International Research, Education, and Development will be well placed to succeed in the next phase of this competition and potentially receive a long-term, multimillion dollar grant set to begin in 2010.