The Standard: Africa home to only 2.3 per cent world’s researchers

19 August 2011

A recent discussion on the EBPDN Africa on-line community prompted a debate on the capacity of researchers in Africa. Awuor Ponge from IPAR forwarded this article from The Standard: Africa home to only 2.3 per cent world’s researchers.

Excluding South Africa, intensity in research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa is merely 0.3 per cent. Unfortunately, whereas the percentage of Gross Domestic Product devoted to research and development has significantly increased in other regions, it has dropped or stagnated in almost all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa besides South Africa.

The article reports on a lecture by Prof Mahmood Mamdani, Director of Makerere University’s Institute of Social Research, who made very important points.

On financial aid:

Mamdani told his audience collaboration has been reduced to assistance, and now there is an emerging theory that African academics cannot do research without outside financial aid. He said consultancy culture is being institutionalised in African universities through basic courses in research methodology, courses that teach students a set of tools to gather and process quantitative information from which to cull answers.

“Proliferation of short courses on methodology that aim to teach students and academic staff quantitative methods necessary to gathering and processing empirical data are ushering a new generation of native informers,” said Mamdani.

On the prevailing business model:

The culture of consultancy has radically changed postgraduate education and research  as consultants presume that research is all about finding answers to problems defined by a client. Mamdani says consultancy driven postgraduate education requires immediate answers to research problems. “It has almost become a matter of policy in most African universities for PhD students to provide a set of recommendations from their thesis for use by the funding external non-governmental organisations,” says Mamdani.

The emerging scenario is that funding scarcities in African universities have led scholars to market driven research where quality control is almost absent. “Moonlighting for donor agencies has endangered the quality of teaching and research in Kenya’s universities,” says the current Unesco World Social Science Report.

This has obvious implications for think tanks. If Universities are not producing sufficient researchers then where are the funds for research that many ‘think tanks’ receive going to? Is this why salaries are often higher in some African countries than they are in developed economies like the UK or the US?

How many think tanks and research centres are being really independent? How many are developing research programmes and projects without the interference of donors?

This, of course, is not only relevant for Africa.