Unveiling the disparities: revisiting education research funding for Africa

21 May 2024

The landscape of educational research in Africa presents a paradox: despite the continent’s rich diversity and complex educational challenges, African researchers are often conspicuously absent from significant research about their contexts.

Studies show that the majority of educational research concerning Africa is not only published outside of the continent but that it is also frequently authored by non-African scholars. This phenomenon contributes to a skewed narrative, which may not fully align with the on-ground realities and indigenous knowledge systems of African societies.

However, if local researchers received more funding and control, the field of educational research in Africa could move towards more equitable, effective and sustainable outcomes. This would create a research landscape that truly embodies the principles of the localisation and decolonisation agendas. +

In this context, the 2024 Member’s Grantee Mapping Analysis was conducted by the African Education Research Funding Consortium (AERFC) +


The analysis has highlighted the current disparities in educational research funding and the impact this is having on the continent’s educational landscape. In doing this, it has also offered a unique opportunity for funders to engage in targeted, practical action research projects. Read the 2023 analysis.

Grantee Mapping Analysis

This analysis drew from a subset of data collected from a group of education research funders operating in Africa. It is important to note that the findings are not representative of all consortium members nor all education research funders.

However, they resonate with the broader trends observed in the field and shed light on persistent disparities in funding allocation, grant duration, and the geographic focus of funded projects.

The consortium’s report, therefore, serves as a valuable reference point for discussions about funding practices. It provides a snapshot that, while not exhaustive, mirrors the systemic issues facing African educational research.

The insights gained are instrumental for consortium members and stakeholders within the education sector; they can be used to evaluate their funding strategies to rectify imbalances and enhance the representation and impact of African researchers in educational research about Africa.

Key findings

Overall, the unequal distribution of education research funding highlighted by this analysis not only underscores a financial imbalance but also reflects deeper systemic issues that influence the capacity of African researchers and institutions.

The disparity in funding – where North American and European organisations receive larger and more long-term grants – means that African researchers often find themselves at a disadvantage.

This imbalance limits their ability to engage in sustained, impactful research initiatives, which are crucial for addressing the multiple challenges faced by the education sector in Africa.

This inequality is not simply about who received the funds. Even if the data do not show it, we know that much of the funding received by the principal grantees or contract holders is sub-granted/contracted out to African organisations. But even if these transfers were significant, control over the funds remains with Northern organisations.

The persistent underfunding of African researchers highlighted by the analysis underscores the need for a systematic re-evaluation of how grants are allocated and managed.

The specific findings were as follows:

1. Funding distribution

The disparity in grant sizes and terms is stark. While African grantees received the majority of the total number of grants (52%), they only accounted for 19% of the total grant value, which is a significant decrease from 37% in the previous year.

Conversely , North American (US and Canada) organisations received 63% of the total grant value, despite only receiving 31% of the total number of grants. In other words, North American grants are 5.5 the size of African grants. +

2. Duration of grants

This imbalance was further highlighted by the duration of the grants: North American grantees received nearly all (82%) of the long-term funding commitments (defined as grants lasting over five years), compared to none in Africa.

3. Inclusive or exclusive funding

Most grants to African organisations are made in response to funders’ calls for proposals. However, grants to North American and European grantees are often the result of funders seeking them out or grantees submitting unsolicited proposals.

Funders also tend to stick with their grantees: 63% have received grants or contracts from the same funder more than once.

4. Location of grantees within Africa

The geographic distribution of these grants shows a significant concentration in Eastern and Southern Africa, with 44% of African grantees located in Eastern Africa and 41% in Southern Africa. This regional skew suggests a need for broader geographic coverage across the continent.

5. Grant function and impact

The allocation of funds primarily supports project implementation and research, with these categories making up 33% and 25% of the grants, respectively. However, there is a notable deficiency in funding for communication (11% of grants) and the practical application of research findings.

This gap indicates a missed opportunity to leverage research for policy-making and practical impact.

6. Challenges in data and transparency

Data collection and reporting remain significant challenges, with varied practices among funders impacting the quality and availability of information.

The lack of common data collection methods among funders was evident. For example, only 39% of the grants analysed had information on whether they were sub-granted or not.

This inconsistency complicates efforts to accurately assess the impact and reach of funded projects.

Are you an education research funder working in Africa? Find out more about the African Education Research Funding Consortium

Impact of funding issues

Impact on long-term capacity building

The focus on short-term grants for African researchers, as opposed to the long-term commitments often awarded to North American counterparts, undermines the potential for building enduring research infrastructure.

Long-term funding is critical as it provides stability, allowing institutions to plan, invest in equipment and retain talent. Without it, African educational researchers may struggle to undertake comprehensive studies that require multi-year data collection and analysis, thus limiting the scope and depth of their work.

The Young Lives initiative, which was launched in 2001, is an excellent example of the value of long-term investments. The initiative currently runs in an adapted form, allowing its partners to raise funds independently from regional and local sources.

Impact on addressing educational challenges

The education sector in Africa faces multiple complex challenges, including high drop-out rates, gender disparities and resource limitations. Addressing these issues effectively requires localised and nuanced research, which understands and integrates local contexts, cultures and complex political environments.

However, the current funding patterns favour external actors over local researchers, potentially leading to solutions that are less tailored to the specific needs and realities of African education and broader political environments.

An effort in the right direction

However, although these findings are somewhat negative, in response to them, funders are making an effort to explore and deliver change.

Participating in the AERFC, for instance, has inspired some funders to undertake reviews of their funding practices and to draw lessons from different models used by other international research funders.

These funders are also taking practical steps to strengthen the field of educational research, increasing their investment in helping African researchers become leading contributors to the global scientific and education community.

A sister effort of the AERFC, the EERA initiative, aims to ‘determine the prerequisites for establishing a strong and sustainable African education research system, led by African researchers and supported by locally generated evidence’. EERA is funded by Echidna Giving, Imaginable Futures and the Jacobs Foundation.

The AERFC members are also supporting the generation and application of rigorous academic research to improve evidence-based decision-making at all levels of the education system.

For example, the Jacobs Foundation’s efforts through Edlabs and funders like the Jacobs Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Oak Foundation are enhancing the capacity, networking, and collaboration of Africa-based early childhood development and foundational learning researchers.

Members of the consortium are also exploring ways to share more information about their current and future plans to ensure much greater collaboration.

Later in 2024, the AERFC secretariat will launch a series of action research projects to attempt to address these persistent challenges.

Even small-scale initiatives can serve as catalysts for broader change, offering valuable insights and paving the way for more significant adjustments in funding strategies.

Are you an education research funder working in Africa? Find out more about the African Education Research Funding Consortium.


Disclaimer: The data used in the analyses mentioned in this blog were collected from a small sample of philanthropies that are part of the African Education Research Funding Consortium. The recommendations made in this blog are OTT’s interpretation of the discussions at the funders consortium and does not reflect the opinions of the members of the Consortium.