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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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A boom in the number of black graduates in South Africa

The number of blacks who received university degrees in South Africa in 2008 increased by 334 % since 1991, compared with a 14 % increase in white graduates for the same period, according to research released by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR). Most of these degrees, however were being conferred by formerly white institutions.

It was found that most of the degrees awarded in 2008 were done by the University of South Africa (UNISA), making up 12.8 % of the degrees conferred by 23 public universities and universities of technology. The study showed that University of Pretoria awards the most masters and doctorate degrees with 15.8% awarded in 2008. University of Stellenbosch awarded 13% of masters and doctorates in 2008 and University of Cape Town awarded 11.4%.

Marius Roodt, one of the researchers commented that “other universities, especially historically-advantaged institutions, be supported to become centres of excellence in their own right, but not at the cost of already succcesful universities”

To read more go to the Sapa article on Times Live by Clicking Here!

Plans for workbooks in South African schools criticised

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s plan to spend R750m on workbooks for all primary school pupils in public schools was called into question recently by research that shows a workbook makes no more difference to educational performance than a textbook. The idea of giving children workbooks was first put forward by Ms Motshekga at the end of last year when she listed several changes to the school curriculum, but an initial promise to make workbooks available for the start of this school year was withdrawn when a R522m tender for 45-million pupil workbooks and parent guidelines for monitoring homework was recalled due to shoddy work.

“It is not workbooks that make the difference … (research shows) it is the presence of books that does,” JET Education Services senior researcher Nick Taylor said recently at a Pretoria workshop on what could be done to strengthen education in South Africa.

To read more go to Sue Blaine’s article “South Africa: research challenges plan to supply workbooks” in Business Day on allAfrica.com by Clicking Here!

OR read Alison Moody’s article “SOUTH AFRICA: Row over research into school books”  in University World News Africa Edition by Clicking Here!

South African government to overhaul funding of research

Sue Blaine recently wrote in Business Day about the South African government’s plans to change the way it funds higher education research, and the possibility of an increase in research funding in 2011.

The Department of Higher Education and Training has allocated R1,8bn to research “outputs” for 2010-11 and recently put R1,6bn into infrastructure improvements in higher education, with a special focus on science, engineering, technology and education, according to acting deputy director-general, Kirti Menon.

Minister Blade Nzimande is also seeking advice from the Council on Higher Education about the possibility that the 80% higher education budget for research outputs be distributed on the basis of the actual research outputs produced by universities. The balance of 20% would be used for research development grants.

To read Sue Blaine original article on allAfrica.com Click 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.

Is a four year undergraduate degree on the cards?

 The Department of of Higher Education and Training of South Africa is considering changing the minimum number of years required to complete most South African first degrees from three to four, spokeswoman Ranjeni Munusamy said recently. Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has made better success rates in SA’s universities and colleges one of his priorities.

Research by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) shows a four-year undergraduate degree would allow the higher education sector to support students whose school education had not adequately prepared them for higher education.

The Research also shows 40% of those who enrol at a higher education institution will never get a qualification, and 50% of that same group will take five years to graduate, said CHE advice and monitoring director Dr Judy Backhouse. 

The research comes from a pilot study at the universities of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, the Free State, Fort Hare, Johannesburg and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and at two universities of technology, Tshwane and Cape Peninsula.

The CHE research is to be published later this year.

To read more go to the Business Day article by Sue Blaine on allAfrica.com by Clicking Here!

Pan-African University to launch in February 2010

The Pan-African University, envisaged as a continental network of institutions training postgraduate students and promoting research, is set to open its doors in February 2010.  The Pan African University (PAU), supported by the African Union, will not construct a new higher education infrastructure – at least not for now – but will use existing universities as satellites across the continent to train masters and PhD students. It will eventually comprise a main campus linked to a network of five regional centres, chosen for their academic and research strength and the relevance of their work to Africa’s needs. The centres will be located in North, West, East, Central and Southern Africa. To read the rest of Munyaradzi Makoni’s article on University World News Click Here!