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Africa’s contribution to world science is shrinking

Africa’s contribution to world knowledge is shrinking and more students choose to study overseas, writes Johann Mouton in the Beeld newspaper. There is a need to build out Africa’s ability to produce knowledge he says.

Today’s economy and society are increasingly dependent on knowledge to ensure progress, and internationally universities are assuming the responsibility to produce that type of scientific knowledge and to disseminate it. This trend however is not happening in Africa, and especially in Africa South of the Sahara.

African countries very often lack research laboratoria, and government institutions with abundant resources. Many of these countries experience huge debt problems resulting from factors ranging from civil wars to globalisation. This has made these countries more dependent on international help. The problem with this according to Mouton is that these international institutions (especially the World Bank) rather support Basic Education than Higher Education. Reasons for this are that investments in primary and secondary education result in far better returns, and secondly that Basic Education is seen as a basic human right.

This led to a shift in focus more on basic education with a resultant decline in funding to higher education institutions. This in turn led to a brain drain, with scores of academics streaming to developed countries and to the private sector.

Mouton cites a study by the University of Leiden’s Centre for Science and Technology, indicating that the contribution of Africa South of the Sahara to world science in 1996 was only 0.7% .

Africa’s was at it highest point in 1987 according to Mouton, but since then Africa has lost 11 % of its contribution to world science, and 31 % in Africa South of the Sahara.

Other factors responsible for this downward trend mentioned in Mouton’s article are:

  • Internal factors at African universities: – University adminstrators are very often government appointees, which have an impact on decision making processes.
  • Intellect-pull effect: – postgraduate students that continue their studies at institutions outside their own countries because of lack of resources and inadequate Masters and Doctorate programmes in their home countries. 

Mouton also cites UNESCO’s outward mobility rate, which measures the number of students that studies overseas. This shows that 87 % of Botswana’s students are studying outside the country, and 30 % of students from Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mauritius are studying outside their countries. South Africa though has a high inward mobility rate because many of the students from these countries are continuing their studies here, but the most popular destinations are the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mouton pleads for the establishment of a dedicated capacity building centre that will support, strengthen and invigorate African expertise and knowledge, giving as an example the African Doctoral Academy at the University of Stellenbosch.

Johann Mouton is the director of the African Doctoral Academy (ADA) in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Stellenbosch.  

To read more go to Johann Mouton’s original article in Afrikaans that was published in the Beeld newspaper of 2 December 2011. Click Here to access the article.


Centres of Excellence in Africa is answer to brain drain

Five Centres of Excellence in Africa established more than two years ago by the German Academic Exchange Service could be part of the answer to the continent’s brain drain. There is demand for higher training by students and the centres feel they are yet to reach their full potential. This was the consensus among African and German cooperation partners at their annual networking meeting, held at the University of the Western Cape in January.

The Germany Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, was instrumental in setting up the training hubs across the continent, with the intention of nurturing future African leaders with the ability to tackle problems with an African agenda.

To read the full article by Munyaradzi Makoni on University World News Click Here!

African universities score poorly in World University rankings

African universities again fared dismally compared to other universities in the Times Higher Education World Universities rankings. The only African universities in the top 200 slots globally are the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and The University of Alexandria in Egypt.

Five elements of higher education were considered:

  • the volume of research undertaken
  • how the institutions were relevant to the job market
  • ratio of the number of students versus academic staff
  • diversity on campus — a sign of how global an institution is in its outlook
  • the impact of the research conducted

“The ability of an institution to attract the very best staff from across the world is key to global success”, lead researcher Ann Mroz said. “The staff-to-student ratio is employed as a proxy for teaching quality”, she added.

The survey also showed that high density of research students are indicative of  more knowledge intensive institutions and that the presence of an active post-graduate community is a marker of a research-led teaching environment.

The teaching category also examined the ratio of PhDs to bachelor’s degrees awarded by each institution.

The University of Cape Town was ranked 107th among the global top 200 institutions.

To read more go to Benjamin Muindi’s article in the Daily Nation by Clicking Here!

or go to David McFarlane’s article in the Mail and Guardian by Clicking Here!

Africa needs collaborative networks to improve higher education

Collaborative networks are crucial to improve the state of African higher education, says innovation expert Mammo Muchie.

Higher education and research in Africa have largely been neglected, both internally and externally, since the 1980s.

If Africa is to join the global knowledge community as an equal partner, it must revolutionise its research, education and training systems.

This does not simply mean pumping money into individual institutions. This can help raise the profile of single universities or research institutes but will do little to improve the system as a whole.

Rather, the key is to foster and sustain a network that circulates knowledge and encourages the creative learner, researcher and knowledge producer.

The priority must be to promote networks for African researchers to engage with and learn from each other. These must initially work within Africa, set up at various scales in multiple forums. A first step would be to establish an Africa-wide university accreditation scheme.

It is scandalous that this has not already been done, although East African universities have recently revived the possibility of recognising each others’ degrees, paving the way for a university accreditation system operating throughout the African Union.

Working together

South Africa will clearly be an important player, as it has a strong higher education and research system that includes five universities recognised in international rankings. The challenge is to use these strengths to support the efforts of other countries.

South Africa must continue to keep its borders open to students and researchers from the rest of Africa — more African postgraduates now travel to South Africa for their training than to Europe or the United States.

The rest of Africa must encourage South Africa to engage in their local knowledge activities. This is already happening in some countries. For example, the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology is cooperating with researchers in South Africa on its Millennium Science Initiative and is working to stimulate innovation and improve relations between the two research communities through a joint science prize.

At a broader scale, Africa needs a network of locally relevant journals — such as The African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development — to disseminate research results and knowledge, to facilitate policy learning and informed dialogue, and to encourage emerging African researchers to publish their work.

Developing networks

Equally important are training networks to boost PhD numbers and reverse the sharp decline in doctoral training seen over the past 30 years.

There is already some progress to report. African scientific board members of the Global Network for the Economics of Learning, Innovation and Competence Building Systems (Globelics), for example, are inspiring and building research and knowledge capacity in Africa by inviting scientists from other developing regions and top researchers from the North to interact with and help their counterparts in Africa. 

The African Globelics Academy for Research, Innovation and Capability (AGARIC) will be running its first PhD school in 2010. The Globelics Academy has provided scholarships for ten African PhD students each year for seven years, where they have an opportunity to interact with the best and brightest from the rest of the world. By establishing AGARIC more African students will benefit by also inviting PhD candidates from the rest of the world to interact with them.

Another scheme, proposed by Stellenbosch University in South Africa, is the African Doctoral Academy, which aims to help PhD students develop generic skills. Although the project would initially focus on students studying arts and social sciences at the university, it is expected to grow to provide for other disciplines at other African universities in Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Help from abroad

But efforts must not be limited to within the continent itself. We must engage the broadest possible mobilisation of everyone involved in higher education, research and knowledge to contribute to training and research capacity building. The diaspora could prove pivotal in achieving this. 

A good starting point is starting national initiatives to connect local researchers with those who have left to work overseas. For example, in Ethiopia we have recently launched a web-based Network of Ethiopian Scholars-Global (NES-Global) to encourage free and open communication between those at home and abroad.

The virtual space is home to e-books and an e-journal and also acts as an information library or kiosk where Ethiopian universities can upload scientific materials.

Similar efforts could help build links with the diaspora from other parts of Africa — all it takes is some initiative.

Africa has a long history of division and fragmentation — from the European scramble for Africa and the thousands of communities that preceded it, to today’s states that, for the most part, remain fragile and aid-dependent.

It is time for us to join up the pieces — through networking — and work together to improve the quality, productivity, capability and use of knowledge to transform African societies, economies, politics and ecology.

Mammo Muchie is a South African national chair on innovation studies at The Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, the Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa. He is also professor at Aalborg University, Denmark, and Senior Research Associate at Oxford University, UK.

This article was first published by SciDev.net  on 17 March 2010 under the title African networks needed to improve higher education. It is reproduced under creative commons licence.

Higher Education in Africa to receive boost

South Africa, Ghana and Uganda stand to benefit from a US$30 million assistance over the next three years in a bid to strengthen higher education in Africa. The Carnegie Corporation of New York will foresee competitive training fellowships to academics and researchers throughout sub-Saharan Africa. According to Vartan Gregorian, Carnegie’s President, the grant will be channeled in IT for research, stocking of libraries and access to information and investing in next generations in Africa.

To read more go to Suleiman Mbatiah’s article on Newstime Africa, by Clicking Here!

Fast Broadband for South African Universities

Critical portions of Seacom’s 17,000 kilometre under-sea fibre optic cable linking Africa to Europe and India were completed last month. This marks a momentous occasion for higher education in South Africa. This will enable South African universities to have fast and affordable internet that handles large volumes of data, something that universities around the world have been used to for some time.

Duncan Greaves, acting CEO of the Centre for Higher Education Transfer, said Seacom’s completion last month had profound implications for South Africa’s tertiary education institutions.

“Universities in the northern hemisphere have had 10 to 100 times as much bandwidth than SA universities, the Seacom cable will bring about parity. This will enable SA universities to participate in a meaningful way in research, development and education that was not possible before. It will also enhance our ability to attract and retain professionals who need proper broadband to work.”

The Seacom cable boasts 1.2 terabits per second (tpbs) and should come online by 23 July 2009.

South Africa’s higher education and research institutions will be the first to benefit from this. TENET a charitable company owned by South Africa’s universities and research councils has a deal with Seacom to buy 10 GB/s for the duration of the cable’s lifespan.

Telecommunications infrastructure that takes bandwidth from the cable landing stations to the country’s 98-odd campuses is being put in place, first using temporary arrangements to ensure new levels of broadband are available sooner. A backbone network that takes broadband from the beach to the universities’ campuses should be finished in six months’ time, and will hopefully be fully operational by the start of next year.

This will be good news for researchers and students involved in data-intensive research like oceanography, radio astronomy, and physicists, who were longing to access nuclear research taking place at CERN in Europe. The cable will give them the type of bandwidth they need to access high-performance computing facilities.

Information for this post was found on University World News Africa Edition. To read more go to the full article by Bill Corcoran in University World News Africa Edition by Clicking Here!

Research in Africa on downward spiral

Wachira Kigotho recently wrote an article in The Standard Online Edition on the “Death of Research in Africa”. In this article he indicates that the scientific gap between Sub-Saharan African countries and the rest of the world is widening to unacceptable levels as a result of weak or total absence of research policies. He reiterrates that when these countries are measured in terms of published scientific papers and patent applications, most countries are experiencing a staggering collapse of scientific output and innovation. National scientific communities that flourished between 1970s and 1980s in Sub-Saharan Africa have floundered or become too small to function effectively. He lists the following possible reasons for the decline:

  • erosion of academic oversight and direction
  • paralysis because of budgetary shortfalls
  • absence of career prospects
  • high staff turnover
  • large number of researchers emigrated or changed professions
  • virtually no recruitment of scientists in the region throughout the 1990s
  • wages paid to scientists in most African countries are no longer adequate to live on
  • funding for science and research partnerships with universities and research institutes in other countries have declined
  • vibrant scientific journals, many of them supported by university departments have disappeared and those that appear are so poorly edited that they have lost their reputed contributors or have been discarded by scientific databases, thus marginalising the scientific output of these countries

Exceptions are countries in Sub-Saharan Africa whose scientists are relatively active in agriculture and medicine.

To read the whole article Click Here!