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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.

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Enrolment and graduation of teachers in South Africa declining

A new book by Andrew Paterson and Fabian Arends titled “Teacher Graduate Production in South Africa”(HSRC Press) looks at the supply and demand of teachers within a national context that acknowledges an impending shortage of teachers. The book specifically focuses on the changing demography of education students at South African higher education institutions. It explores a broad overview of the enrolment, graduation and throughput characteristics of students registered for programmes in the education field, both in the Initial Professional Education and Training (IPET) and Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) fields – which apply to new students and qualified teachers, respectively. To read more on the Skills Portal Site Click 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!