Informatics academics teach mathematical sciences in Africa

[14/01/2024] Ava Khamseh and Heather Yorston, academics at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics both recently completed 3-week intensive teaching periods at the UNESCO African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

As visiting lecturers, Ava Khamseh taught parts of her MSc course in Causal Inference in Ghana and Heather Yorston taught an Introduction to Linear Algebra in Ghana, followed by Numerical Linear Algebra in Rwanda. They both found the experience rewarding and have reflected on their time spent teaching in Africa.

Ava’s story

AIMS lecturing

"I had heard about the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) before due to connections between Edinburgh University and AIMS. After attending an exciting talk by the Director of AIMS Ghana about the institute and its goals during a conference at Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, I became interested to apply and deliver parts of my MSc course in causal inference at the School of Informatics, as a visiting lecturer at AIMS Ghana."

"Since there is also a complimentary course at the School of Mathematics, delivered by my colleague Sjoerd Beentjes, we decided to merge the key aspects of both courses for AIMS and co-lecture the material. AIMS is known to be a 24/7 learning environment, and it lives up to this expectation! I enjoyed my time there and interactions with the students. The students are very friendly, motivated, and engage well with the material during the lectures, tutorials and afterwards. I can honestly say the course material has improved because of the interactions with the AIMS students."

It was an amazing opportunity to be exposed to and learn about the diversity of culture, language and food in Ghana and Africa more generally, as the AIMS student cohort and tutors come from various countries.

Ava Khamseh
Lecturer in Biomedical Artificial Intelligence, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Heather’s story

AIMS lecturing

"I first heard about the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences from a lecturer at University of Strathclyde where I was doing my PhD. I looked up the website and was immediately attracted to go out and lecture for one of the centres."

"I put my application to AIMS in each year from 2019 after my successful PhD viva but had no reply. Then Professor Bernd Shroers the Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics. put me in touch with the Academic Director at AIMS Rwanda and I offered several courses. When the Director’s reply came back, he wanted me to teach a completely different course – Numerical Linear Algebra (NLA)."

"Meanwhile Dr Angela Tabiri, a Ghanian whom I met while doing my PhD, recommended me to AIMS Ghana who asked me to teach Introduction to Linear Algebra. A few weeks later AIMS Rwanda invited me to come and teach NLA. I was able to do both because of my few months of sabbatical and the support of Bjoern the Director of Teaching in Informatics and Bernd."

"Teaching the students at both centres was very fulfilling. They are so keen to study and give you lovely cheerful greetings each morning as you go to class. I had a chance to see around some of Accra with the shore and local markets and more time to see around Kigali and go to a Rwandan wedding and see traditional dancing. I also went to the Genocide memorial in Kigali, which is a very emotional experience, but inspiring in how Rwanda is being built into a nation again and how reconciliation continues to take place. This is very thought-provoking with all the conflict at present in the world. "

I would love to be invited back to either AIMS centre in the future. My foundation in both theoretical and numerical linear algebra is far more secure and I can now fill in any gaps in my understanding of machine learning. Even if I am unable to travel again to either site, other lecturers can use my material to deliver the courses. I also hope that some lecturer reading this will consider applying to one of the AIMS centres and contributing to courses or Master’s projects and even PhD projects there. Could the next Einstein be African? How wonderful!

Heather Yorston
Lecturer, School of Informatics and School of Mathematics, University of Edinburgh


AIMS is a pan-African network of centres of excellence enabling Africa’s talented students to become innovators driving the continent’s scientific, educational, and economic self-sufficiency. The idea behind the initiative is to bring in lecturers from all over the world to teach courses at one of the AIMS centres in Africa.

Over the past decade, there have been steady flows of lecturers from the University of Edinburgh (and indeed other Scottish and UK universities) to AIMS centres for lecturing, and of AIMS student to Edinburgh for their PhD studies. With AIMS founder Neil Turok now the Higgs professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, there are ongoing efforts to develop a deeper partnership between AIMS and the University.

Related links  

Link to AIMS website

Link to Heather Yorston’s personal page

Link to Ava Khamseh’s personal page

Link to Next Einstein website