Government research funding reform in West Africa: what to watch

1 July 2024

In 2007 the African Union set a target of 1% of GDP for research and development (R&D) by 2010. Yet African countries are lagging behind this commitment. In 2021 a powerful piece in The Conversation by a group of eminent African researchers bemoaned the “glaring lack of leadership and direction” by and from African research and political leaders” in addressing this.
Today, West Africa’s research funding landscape is in flux with lots of reforms underway in several countries.

At OTT we recently undertook a mini-exploration of this landscape, as part of a technical advisory partnership with Jacobs Foundation and its EdLab partners. Here’s what we found and what we think it is worth exploring further.

Recent reforms

In Côte d’Ivoire, a new Science, Technology and Innovation Fund has been established at the national science council, Fonds pour la science, technologie et l’innovation (FONSTI).

In Senegal, the Direction Générale de la Recherche et d’Innovation (DGRI), the national research funding body under the Ministry of Education, launched a new strategic plan for research and innovation last year which includes a new national research funding system.

Ghana also established a new research fund last year, although as of February 2024, this was still not yet operational.

Nigeria does not have a single government science council. Its government research funding is currently channelled through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, which has committed to establishing a science granting council.

Initial impressions

The lack of available information on government research spending (both of public funds and donor funds) is striking. We’ve seen rightful concern from many angles about the dominance of international donors in setting and funding research priorities, and growing research about this. Yet there still seems to be a very limited picture of governments’ own spending in this area.

The absence of social sciences (such as education) from the priority national research topics is also notable – despite the fact that these sectors are key national development priority areas. GDN’s Doing Research Assessments are a great way to understand social science landscapes in particular countries. We’d love to collaborate on these with an education focus to understand the particular gaps around education.

Questions to explore

Of course, one big question to consider will be how these reforms are affected by the dynamic electoral landscape in the region. Senegal and Nigeria have elected new governments in the past 18 months, Ghana goes to the polls in December, and Cote d’Ivoire will be voting in 2025. What will the effects of the elections be on these reforms? To what extent are new governments expected to follow them through?

Other important questions we would love to explore further:

  • How will the current national research funding reforms in West Africa affect the sector more broadly, and education in particular?
  • To what extent do government research funding structures/processes in the STI architecture link to those in other parts of government (e.g., in ministries of planning, or in sector ministries like health and education?)
  • How are research priority topics identified by governments? What are the existing spaces for dialogue between (national) researchers and governments about research priorities and how do these spaces work?
  • What does government investment in research look like when compared to other forms of evidence (e.g., primary research vs synthesis vs evaluations vs data)–which forms of evidence are invested in most by governments and why?
  • What can be learned from government research funding approaches in other regions, for instance, Peru?

The slide deck that we produced from our brief desk review and a few informal interviews was just enough for us to see that this seems to be an under-explored area, and that it’s too early to see the impact of these reforms in West Africa. This is clearly a fast-changing space and one to watch.

Get in touch if you would like to partner with us to explore these questions.