In 1994 genocide in Rwanda shocked the world. New Lincoln University Council member, Emeritus Professor James McWha, could not turn down an opportunity in 2013 to help Rwanda recover from that terrible time by setting up its only public university.
Professor McWha has replaced former Chancellor Tony Hall as one of the pool of three members appointed by Council.
He said Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, is using education to grow the economy to reduce poverty and to improve health outcomes, and has already revamped the primary and secondary school sectors.
“He (the President) wanted to address the tertiary sector and he recognised that where universities were concerned, he needed an international perspective,” Professor McWha said.
Professor McWha had recently retired from his role as Vice-Chancellor of Adelaide University but was still heavily involved with The Association of Commonwealth Universities. Rwanda had recently joined the Commonwealth.
”I was asked if I would go and look at what they (the Rwandan Government) were trying to do with the university sector.
“The President wanted to set up a research university. He said it only had to do two things - provide answers to the country's problems (through research) and produce future leaders (through quality teaching).The upshot was that I was asked if I would set it up and be the inaugural Vice-Chancellor,” Professor McWha said.
“It was impossible to refuse.”
After two years The University of Rwanda was a reality with more than 30,000 students over 15 campuses and an increasing number of the staff having doctoral qualifications. He then felt able to pass on the role and return home.
However, Lincoln has now presented him with another challenge.
“I have been involved with Lincoln since the 1970s when I was an external representative on its Professorial Board and I have an enormous respect for the institution.
“I want to make whatever contribution I can and it is a privilege to be asked (to be on the council).”
Agriculture and universities have been my life, he said.
“Agriculture is not only the principal driver of the New Zealand economy but also the most important industry on the planet. How else can we feed the nine billion population we expect by 2050?
“Universities are the knowledge centres where problems are resolved and future leaders are developed. Lincoln University plays a vital role both nationally and internationally,” he added.
Professor McWha has high aspirations for Lincoln University.
“I would like to see Lincoln recognised as the best quality university in the country.
“I hope that I can contribute to the understanding of the dynamics of universities and that my networks both within New Zealand and internationally can be of value.”
His resume also includes Chief Executive Officer of HortResearch, from 1992 –1995, and numerous directorships, committee memberships, convener roles and advisorships.
Born in Northern Ireland, Professor McWha graduated with a BSc and BAgr (with Honours in Agricultural Botany) from Queen's University Belfast in 1969 and 1970. He received his PhD from Glasgow University in 1973.
Lincoln University Chancellor Steve Smith said Professor McWha adds strength to the Council’s overall skills mix with his tertiary sector experience, knowledge of research funding systems and strategies, and insights into the specific challenges of running a University.
“All of this capability is going to be required as we move into a very exciting, but also challenging stage in the future of Lincoln University.”