AFRICA: Call to translate research spend into results

African governments have been called on to make it mandatory for higher education institutions to have policies on research. There also needs to be increased focus on the link between research spend and results, and on making research findings available to policy-makers and the general public to inform their decisions.

These were among the arguments of Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, secretary general of the Association of African Universities (AAU), speaking at the opening of the second Mobilising Regional Capacity Initiative (MRCI) workshop held in Accra, Ghana, from 6-7 October.

"Africa needs to transform to ensure that whatever we are spending on research translates into results," the Ghanaian publication Public Agenda quoted Jegede as saying.

The association leads and manages the MRCI through a fund for the strengthening of partnerships between the AAU and the main sub-regional and national bodies representing higher education institutions in Africa.

Backed by a £3.5 million (US$5.5 million) grant from the UK's Department for International Development, the MRCI is part of a drive for sustainable development of the continent while exploring means to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

About 20 participants from West, East and Southern Africa, whose institutions are MRCI beneficiaries, attended the two-day meeting, which was held under the theme, "The Contribution of African Higher Education Institutions to Development and the Attainment of the MDGs: Experiences from the MRCI projects".

Jegede said 41 universities across Africa had been benefiting from the MRCI, and this was expected to lead to enhanced capacity of universities to innovate, reform and share information.

The secretary general argued in favour of developing policy frameworks that address key issues confronting higher education institutions - such as schemes for enhancing enrolment of under-represented groups and quality of teaching and learning.

The MRCI project aims to build capacity in higher education through strengthening community skills, innovating in ICT, reducing poverty, tracing progress on the MDGs and promoting the contribution of agriculture to sustainable development.

Julia Preece, of the Centre for Adult Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, leads a team of four university partners from universities in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Calabar in Nigeria.

She said the overall picture from the MRCI project was that in each country the community responses were very positive towards universities' engagement with them.

"All highlighted gains in skills, knowledge and understanding, though all emphasised that the projects were too short and required ongoing involvement in order to maximise the benefits," she said.

The main challenges were time and coordination of staff, students and community contacts, Preece told University World News.

"The challenge now is to continue the involvement in the face of budget constraints within universities," she added.

She said a second phase of funding would enable research teams to build on their findings from the first phase, consolidate the positive outcomes and develop the aspects that still need improving.

"In particular, to embed these activities within the university infrastructure takes time," she added.