AFRICA: Research governance initiative launched

A new project to boost management of research at African universities has been launched. University Research Governance, started by Canada's International Development Research Centre, aims to focus universities on usable research outputs to enhance socio-economic development.

The initiative, announced at the third congress of the International Networks of Research Management Societies, or INORMS, held in Cape Town last month, is already being implemented.

Research governance refers to policies that key stakeholders such as governments, donors, industry and non-governmental organisations use to manage and regulate research. It is crucial for setting standards for research conduct while helping shape ethical and scientific quality, as well as promoting good practice.

In Africa, the challenges of managing research are often the same as in the rest of the world. Quality teaching has been compromised as universities tend to reduce teaching commitments so that academics can give more time to research.

Fernando Santiago-Rodriguez, IDRC senior programme officer for innovation, technology and society, told the conference bulletin INORMS Daily that six universities in five countries in West Africa were involved in the project.

Santiago-Rodriguez said research management was only one of the components of the project. "[The project was] approved a few weeks ago and is already under implementation. The content is still being developed," he said.

Officials from six universities in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal funded by the Canadian centre attended the conference as part of the programme's implementation.

Albert van Jaarsveld, President of the National Research Foundation in South Africa, said the challenge was to manage researchers effectively in an evolving governance system while addressing the need for taxpayers and other stakeholders to understand the importance of research work.

"We need to understand what is the correct vision of balance in priorities in a way that upsets only a few people," he said.

Van Jaarsveld said while there were concerns about the flight of trained researchers there was the need for partners to grow the science base in South Africa and other African countries.

"We want to think of brain circulation; those researchers who go away will come back at one stage with some wealth of experience."

The conference, co-hosted by the Southern Africa Research Institute Management and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, attracted nearly 500 participants from across the globe.