UK initiative to enhance Africa’s research capacity

Britain’s Institute of Development Studies, or IDS, will select nine African universities over two years to participate in a new programme to boost the research and teaching practices of academics working in agriculture, health and the environment. The British government is funding the scheme with a £2 million (US$3 million) grant.

The first three universities will be selected by this March based on a ‘closed-call’ for partners, said Siobhan Duvigneau, project manager of the three-and-half-year African Universities’ Research Approaches, or AURA, programme project.

“These partners will be selected from research activities already underway in IDS and our partner institutions. This might include institutions who are currently working with our research teams, have worked with us in the past or are connected through similar networks,” she told University World News.

A further six institutions will be selected in two and three years, she said.

The project is led by IDS and also involves the Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa, or ITOCA, based in South Africa and Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.

Duvigneau said the plan is to enhance the research capacity of African academics, which entails improving their capacity to produce research and generate local research that will address socio-economic challenges facing their county or the continent at large.

“We will help academics to create research-led teaching and learning environments so that they can foster the research capabilities, critical thinking and independent learning skills of their students. All key areas addressing continent-wide goals,” she said.

Programme aims

According to its concept note the programme focuses on the production and communication of research while emphasising strong research skills, information and evidence literacy and effective research behaviours and practices.

The aim is to ensure that faculty innovate their teaching practices by introducing a range of context-specific teaching and learning methods that will develop research-apprenticeships and encourage graduates to develop independent learning skills.

Duvigneau said that the project partners would intensively and initially work with one university department, and each department would be expected to revitalise their curricula. Each university would be expected to also introduce the programme’s approaches to other departments.

She said health, agriculture and the environment where chosen as these areas were critical to addressing socio-economic challenges and development issues – such as under-nutrition, poverty alleviation and equality.

These broad themes are also areas of research undertaken by IDS and are the thematic areas covered by the Research4Life or R4L programme – an information portal providing free access to peer-reviewed articles for eligible countries.

The Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa is the official trainer in the suite of R4L products in Africa. ITOCA is a capacity development organisation, and is responsible for disseminating the training and working with universities and professional services to revitalise curricula. It will also play a role in sharing learning about the programme.

Dr Mark Hepworth, reader in information behaviour at Loughborough University, will lead the development of a thematic research methods and skills course, as well as assist with the development of a teaching and learning framework for sharing with other universities across the continent. Hepworth will also produce research publications on the programme.

“At least 130 in the first year will benefit directly from the programme, although we hope to work with more academics within each partner institution,” said Duvigneau, adding that more accurate figures would be known after selection of partner institutions in the first year.

She said institutions that were not directly involved would also be able to engage with the programme through online learning events and training courses. “This should benefit a significantly higher number of academics and professional staff,” she said.