A US$15 million initiative to strengthen science granting councils in Africa held its inaugural forum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi this month. Initially science councils will be supported in 12 countries – Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The five-year Science Granting Councils Initiative has a focus on East Africa but includes councils from Central, Southern and West Africa. Over the project duration, 16 science councils will be supported.
The project is being jointly funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, or DfID, Canada’s International Development Research Centre and South Africa’s National Research Foundation, or NRF.
The aims are to strengthen the capacities of science councils “in order to support research and evidence-based policies that will contribute to economic and social development”, according to the NRF.
According to its prospectus, the initiative will work with science councils that are “committed to improving their internal research management processes and which have developed concrete plans to do so".
“The ability of the councils to sustain capacity strengthening activities beyond the life of the current support will be critical to the initiative’s overall success.”
There are four primary objectives:
- Research management in key areas such as: grant-making systems and procedures; principles of scientific merit review; science, technology and innovation, or STI, policy analysis and research priority setting; design and management of science and technology cooperation agreements; effective communication of research results; mapping of science and innovation funding; aligning publicly funded research with private sector needs; and implementing new modes of scientific practices, such as open access and open science.
- Designing and monitoring research programmes based on the development, collection, analysis and use of STI indicators, along with strengthening the capacity to use foresight and scenario-building techniques to identify and prioritise future STI needs.
- Supporting knowledge exchange with the private sector by managing projects designed to promote linkages between universities and national research institutes and the private sector, as well as identifying priority research areas relevant to the needs of the private sector.
- Establishing partnerships with other science system actors such as universities and industry to create opportunities for sharing of information and lessons among councils in Sub-Saharan Africa on a regular basis.
These objectives will be achieved through activities including customised regional exchange and training, regional forums, online training, on-site coaching and collaborative research.
A virtual hub and learning platform will facilitate resource sharing, community building, collaboration and mentorship, archiving of results and data, access to resources, and dissemination of the initiative’s results.
“The solutions to Africa’s challenges must be spearheaded by African science, technology and innovation,” Acting CEO of South Africa’s National Research Foundation Dr Beverley Damonse said at the 11 September launch forum, according to a foundation release.
“Public investment in strengthening the capacities of science granting councils in Africa will change the quality, quantity and impact trajectory of Africa’s STI products and services.”
Dr Stephen McGurk, vice-president of programmes and partnerships for the International Development Research Centre, or IDRC, stressed the importance of strategic partnerships in implementing the project, while Dr Lisa Phillips, head of DfID in Kenya, said: “At the core of this programme is the drive to unleash the potential of STI as a driver of economic development in Africa.”
International reports indicate that while 14% of the world’s population lives in Africa, the continent only accounts for 1% of scientists. Africa has about 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants compared to 130 for India, 168 for Brazil, 450 for China, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States.
Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, vice-rector for academic affairs and chair of the research coordination committee at the Islamic University in Uganda, welcomed the initiative, which he told University World News would help tackle Africa’s weak scientific performance and challenges including low capacity in research management.
Following the launch, the NRF said, representatives of science granting councils would work to shape the initiative’s implementation plan and agenda for the next five years.
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