University research uptake gains ground

Research-intensive African universities can play an important role in contributing to the evidence base to address Africa's development challenges. In rising to meet these challenges through quality research, they are providing African solutions to African problems and stimulating local demand for better, stronger and more contextualised evidence.

The United Kingdom government, in seeking to support a collection of African universities already moving in this direction, three years ago launched Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa, or DRUSSA.

The programme administered by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, or ACU, works to consolidate and strengthen existing research uptake capacity in 24 member universities across 12 countries.

It provides direct support to these universities at individual, institutional and systems level to improve the use of locally produced research in, and impact on, policy and practice.

Since its launch DRUSSA has maintained focus on its aim to assist universities in promoting their research results, with the view to the findings being translated into meaningful usage. While many successes have been recorded through DRUSSA, some challenges remain.

Benchmarking report

On 12-14 March 2014, DRUSSA, having reached its half-way point, marked the occasion by hosting a conference in Cape Town at which a benchmarking report was presented to all members.

The report, which will be available online by mid-May 2014, details the many success stories that have occurred since the inception of the programme, alongside an assessment of challenges still faced.


Some of the stand-out successes of the programme include a marked increase in:
  • • The number of offices and posts dedicated to research uptake at member universities.
  • • Universities providing career incentives to staff for engaging in research uptake activity.
  • • The use of mechanisms to monitor and assess the uptake of university research.
  • • The number of universities that have incorporated research uptake elements within their institutional strategic documents, such as research strategies.
Each of these, and many more recorded achievements, emerged over the course of the programme in dialogue with DRUSSA's "50 Statements of Good Practice in Research Uptake".

This document was developed by member universities themselves at the start of the programme to focus ongoing efforts, and has evidently paid dividends.


Some challenges remain, and the benchmarking conference provided an excellent forum for member universities to come together to address these.

Two of the most common issues will be familiar to universities in developing contexts.

Many members reported that an incomplete record of, and access to, their institution's research outputs hindered efforts to effectively broadcast the good work that was being done, and was an impediment to the university capitalising on circumstances of opportunity - such as time-sensitive external stakeholder requests for information, commonly from government ministries or the press.

DRUSSA is helping to address this issue by supporting universities to develop systems to assist in science communication, such as fostering regular interaction between researchers and university support staff integral to research uptake efforts, including public relations officers and ICT staff responsible for updating the institution's website.

Another recurring issue is a lack of capacity in science communication, both among researchers themselves and within university public relations offices.

It is incumbent on universities to facilitate the uptake of scientific advances by communicating these effectively, and DRUSSA is assisting members to meet this challenge by providing capacity building training to individual staff members, with the view to this training being more broadly disseminated by the staff member upon returning to his or her institution.

This having been said, effective science communication is a two way street and, no matter how proficient the university or individual involved, the process relies on a receptive and science literate audience. It is with this in mind that DRUSSA has plans to expand its current activities.

Future activity

In a clear measure of DRUSSA's success so far, the UK government has confirmed that it will be extending funding to the programme to include a new series of activities.

These activities will focus specifically on raising the capacity of government policy-makers to engage with and utilise development related research.

To this end, and in conjunction with partners in Ghana and Uganda, DRUSSA is poised to deliver a series of complementary and mutually reinforcing activities for civil servants and political leaders to begin a process of cultural change in favour of greater use of research evidence in the formation and implementation of development policy.

Universities in those countries will be invited to take part in these activities and the lessons learnt from this process will be fed back to the member universities.

This learning, and indeed all learning captured over the course of the programme as a whole, is - or will shortly be - publicly available on the programme website, and any institution with an interest in developing its research uptake potential is encouraged to access this material.

Of particular interest for those universities outside of the programme is the DRUSSA Research Uptake Management e-Library, or RUMeL, which is a valuable resource. It houses a collection of strategy and procedural documents relating to research uptake good practice drawn from universities worldwide.

RUMeL is a great tool for sourcing templates and ideas for institutions to draft their own strategic documents, and a timely reminder that the challenge of effective research uptake management in universities is a global one.

* Tomas Harber is a programme officer for Association of Commonwealth Universities.


Only if African scholars are ready to explore issues pertinent to Africa, and if African states/leaders are ready to listen and implement proposed frameworks. If not, research might be of no use in addressing prevailing ills in our society.

Ndinelao Kaleb on the University World News Facebook page