Africa needs to accelerate research excellence - here's how to go about it


Prospective students and their parents take a look at the recently published world university rankings for 2022.

The ranking model is well known.

European, American and Asian universities compete for the top spot, while some African universities climb past the top 200. Some are not even on the list. And this is despite the fact that universities in Africa have made the greatest progress in the rankings since 2018. This ranking comes from a variety of metrics. This includes funding and donations, research performance or influence, experience in the specialization, admissions and opportunities for students, and historical reputation.

Africa accounts for 12.5% ​​of the world's population. But it makes up less than 1% of the world's research output. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest research capacity and attainment in the world. At this rate, universities in the region are unlikely to make it into the top 10 - or even 50.


There is no shortage of intelligent, hardworking and innovative people on this continent. This ranking shows that Africa is not reaching its full potential. How does the continent's research potential make a full contribution to national and global challenges?

We can't manage or improve what we don't measure. So I proposed the creation of the Scientific Achievement Barometer for Africa (REBA). As a Zimbabwean, I think it fits perfectly - reba is Sean's verb "to grow".

The barometer is operated at the state level. Scientific performance areas and weak points are identified.

Tools like these can be transformative. For example, several years ago I participated in the evaluation of a national health research system in Africa with the aid of a research barometer. The reason for the work is the realization that the health system lacks the resources and research capacity to achieve the UN's sustainable development goals.

Between 2014 and 2018, 47 member states of the WHO Africa Region used barometers to monitor, identify and close critical gaps in national health research systems. It has made significant progress in just four years. For example, there have been significant advances in the management of health research; Development and maintenance of research resources; and production and use research.

Something similar, but more ambitious, could help transform the entire African research ecosystem.

Ecosystem research

Today, those wishing to pursue further studies face major challenges among African graduates aged 10-12 million years. Institutions that are not well equipped and financed lead to low wages. Limited domestic investment results in poor research funding and hinders innovation. Weak research support systems create a huge administrative burden for researchers. Some research management and regulatory systems are impractical. In such an environment it is difficult to develop a career in science.

The result is three unwanted results:

limited, “cheaper” research that does not necessarily meet local challenges

unfair, third-party funded partnerships where African researchers are data collectors or samplers for researchers in Western institutions

Bringing people to better paid, equipped and funded Western facilities.

Of the 10 countries in the world that have lost more than half of their medical graduates to living abroad, six are in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that Africa is losing potential health care professionals and clinical researchers.

My proposed barometer would identify African countries where poor and brain-draining research ecosystems are a significant problem, and highlight the policies and circumstances that contribute to them. The barometer will also identify best practices in countries that are successful in those countries to share across continents.

The sheer number of rating systems in existence proves its worth. For example, the Afrobarometer measures public attitudes toward democracy, government, economy and society; and the African Training Barometer analyzes the state of education and learning.

It is, therefore, a surprise and a failure that there is no such instrument for national facilitation and research capacity. After all, the barometer I'm offering has nothing to do with competition. It's about creating signposts for the functioning of national research ecosystems, celebrating strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

Barometer covers all disciplines. It will measure, inter alia, the state of national research governance, including all research foundations and academies, research policies - including procurement and imports, ethical review and sampling procedures/policies. In addition, the number and types of research institutions and their infrastructure are also studied. Another important factor for measurement is the system used to conduct and conduct scientific research; local research funding; and salaries, benefits, and job satisfaction among academics.

Writer: Francisco Mutapi

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