Key Elements of the Circle Programme

100 CIRCLE Visiting fellows​hips (CVFs) are being funded over three years: 40 post-Masters and 60 post-Doctoral CVFs will be available.

Prospective fellows are nominated from and hosted by selected African universities and research institutions.
The CVFs are tenable for one year and are awarded to original and well-constructed research proposals on the impact of climate change in Africa.

The CVFs specifically targets early career researchers.

The programme provides support and training to develop the institutional research capacity of participating institutions, especially in relation to their early career researchers .

The aim of the programme is to strengthen African research output within the broad field of climate change

Africa is particularly vulnerable to the environmental, social and economic impact of changes in climate and the IPCC suggests Africa is likely to emerge as the most vulnerable to climate change by 2100 (IPCC, 2007). Despite consensus on the current and future impacts of climate change on Africa, there are significant uncertainties on the exact nature of future climatic changes. A better understanding is critical to developing sustainable and cost-effective responses. However, sufficient support and resources to build a solid research base are lacking. Between 1981 and 2009 African scientists contributed less than 2% of global climate change publications. There are a number of initiatives in Africa helping to address Africa’s climate change problems, but the research community remains in need of a boost. CIRCLE seeks to facilitate the capacity of African researchers to develop relevant local solutions and improve uptake and use in local, national and regional policy and implementation. It will also enhance the output of African researchers by increased training and publications.

The programme seeks to support the emergence of centres of academic expertise in climate impacts

CIRCLE concentrates fellowships on a select pool of African home and host institutions and complements them with institutional support. It directly enhances knowledge through the research fellowships, while also providing critical support for institutions to capitalise on the skills and knowledge gained by their returning fellows. The African institutions also receive quality assurance support on research career training from reputable advanced research institutions outside Africa.

It aligns its efforts with the work of other bodies

The programme does not work in isolation, but seeks to contribute to local, national and regional policy agendas and the initiatives of organisations already working in the area of climate change in Africa and those yet to come. It is important that the individual researchers and academic institutions benefitting from this programme work in conjunction with existing frameworks to maximise their impact. The aim of the programme is not simply to produce a body of research, but to strengthen the mechanisms of research uptake and support institutions to develop and realise a clearly defined strategic approach to climate change research.

A focus on supporting early career academics

On their own, the fellowships will have important but limited benefits. By concurrently strengthening the capacity of institutions to manage, organise and support the career development of ‘next generation’ researchers, it is intended that fellows will return to a more enabling and sustainable environment for further research. This focus acknowledges the importance of nurturing early career academics and linking them to the long-term future development of university research, while also offsetting some of the common disadvantages they face in obtaining funding and time for scientific enquiry.

Fellowships are considered for discrete or collaborative pieces of research. It is expected that the research findings will be published in a peer reviewed journal at the end of the fellowships. The programme selects a pool of African Institutions to nominate candidates. The nominees are required to submit a more detailed research proposal (guided and assisted by more senior academics at their home and host institutions)

One-year fellowships are awarded to support research proposals on the impact of climate change in Africa, with up to 100 fellowships funded over four years; 40 MSc-qualified researchers and 60 PhD-qualified researchers.

Fellowships are specifically targeted at early career researchers in African institutions.

Coping with the effects of climate change requires strategic approaches by building capacity in multi and trans-disciplinary areas. It is for this reason that the CIRCLE programme offers fellowships in selected multidisciplinary thematic fields.

The thematic areas of CIRCLE are:

  • Water
  • Energy
  • Agriculture
  • Political Economy
  • Health and livelihoods

The CIRCLE programme also welcomes proposals in areas such as adaptation, mitigation, vulnerability assessment, forecasting and modelling.

Research proposals can be:
Discrete: fellow does not work with any research partners.
Collaborative: fellow works with partners at home or host institutions.
New research: not based on pre-existing research undertaken by the fellow
An expansion/development of existing research: e.g. building on a PhD/masters thesis or developing a research project initiated at the home institution.
Multi-disciplinary or multi-thematic.

34 CIRCLE Visiting Fellows (CVFs) were selected as the first cohort of fellows to start in early 2015. Since commencement, CVFs and their supervisors report that their research is progressing well.

The application process for the second cohort of CVFs started in early 2015, with applications currently under review. The fellowships will commence in January, 2016.

Institutional strengthening component of the CIRCLE programme

The institutional strengthening programme (ISP) also runs alongside the fellowship programme with the objective of helping to create a more enabling environment for returning fellows within their home institutions and thereby enhance the long-term impact of the programme.

Experience from existing international postgraduate scholarship and fellowship schemes indicates that where a returning scholar or fellow works in an academic role, the long-term impact of the scholarship or fellowship is in large part determined by the institutional context in which the scholar or fellow works. After completing such a period in another country, many African academics struggle to establish successful research careers on their return to organisations that, for a wide variety of reasons, either constrain or do not adequately support their career development.

The purpose of this element of the programme is to enhance the potential of the CIRCLE fellows to capitalise on the experience gained during the fellowship and to build a successful research career, thereby helping to secure the long-term contribution of African Scientists to the body of knowledge on climate impacts.

The institutional strengthening programme has two main strands:

  • Enhancing professional development support for early career academic staff.
  • Developing a stronger institutional framework for supporting research, both in general and with reference to climate change.

Activity is conducted in two phases:

  • Undertaking in-depth institutional needs analyses with each of the participating institutions.
  • Capacity strengthening activities designed to respond to common needs and challenges identified in phase 1.

Active participation in the institutional capacity strengthening programme is a condition of involvement in the CIRCLE programme for home/nominating institutions. Host institutions that are not also nominating will also be invited to participate, but this is not compulsory.

Training and bespoke support to strengthen early career research support within the participating institutions is provided by Vitae, an international programme focused on enhancing the professional and career development opportunities for researchers.