CODESRIA initiatives to boost social sciences research

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa – CODESRIA – has stepped up initiatives to boost academic research, with two mega grant facilities meant to mobilise support for the continent’s universities.

Under its recently launched African Diaspora Support to African Universities initiative, CODESRIA has invited African scholars in the diaspora to submit proposals for visiting professorships to the continent’s universities.

Secondly, the council has announced funding towards laboratories and doctoral schools in African universities for the first phase of an initiative to support research in the social sciences and humanities.


Africa’s higher education sector has been undergoing major transformation, especially in the form of a sharp rise in the number of universities and academic programmes. But expansion has occurred during a period of minimal investment in higher education infrastructure.

There is a pressing need to renew capacity for research and teaching in universities, said CODESRIA, and “wide acknowledgement that a broad-based and balanced education integrating the sciences, the humanities and the social sciences is the best way for higher education institutions to contribute to addressing the development crisis in Africa”.

Population pressure on higher education has become a constant concern for governments, and student demand will continue to rise due to Africa’s rapidly growing youth population. Such problems have also become acute because of a chronic brain drain.

African universities continue to grapple with a chronic shortage of qualified academic staff for teaching and for PhD supervision, particularly following the creation of hundreds of new public and private universities.

“The consequences of this shortage include lack of capacity in most of the social science and humanities departments and schools in African universities to organise quality postgraduate programmes and conduct research,” said CODESRIA.

“In some instances, capacity for postgraduate supervision is weak and doctoral and masters students take longer to complete their programmes due to a lack or shortage of qualified supervisors and mentors,” it said in a statement.

The diaspora project

The diaspora support initiative is geared towards alleviating problems related to research funding, quality and the relevance of training. It seeks to mobilise African academics in the diaspora to strengthen links with and support for African universities.

A call for proposals under the new initiative went out in July, in a funding window that closes on 15 September.

CODESRIA data shows that hundreds of African scholars continue to leave the continent annually for teaching opportunities elsewhere, while thousands of Africans graduate from institutions abroad and do not return. There are many highly qualified academics circulating within Africa – a pool CODESRIA also hopes to tap.

Many diaspora academics in and outside Africa are willing to lend a hand in revitalising universities, and the hope is to tap into their academic expertise and resource base.

Visiting professorships will be for diaspora academics willing to contribute to strengthening African universities, nurturing a new generation of scholars in a culture of excellence, and revitalising the humanities, social sciences and higher education studies.

The specific objectives of the initiative include: strengthening PhD programmes and curricula in the social sciences, humanities and related fields; helping to fill gaps and tackle shortages of qualified teaching staff; and PhD supervision and mentoring of young scholars.

The hope is to organise joint supervision of masters and doctoral students and enable diaspora academics to take up short-term teaching engagements in African universities as part of their sabbaticals.

It will also see the creation of a College of Mentors for early career academics, including through joint research and publications, and will enable diaspora academics and senior African scholars to serve as external examiners for each other’s universities.

To start with, visiting professorships will serve several countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. Other African universities wishing to host visiting professors from the diaspora have also been asked to write to CODESRIA.

Strengthening research

The second project, aimed at strengthening research laboratories and doctoral schools in African universities, seeks to build a seminar culture and encourage multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches.

“Clearly, it is about eradicating the consultancy culture and addressing the challenges of reconstructing an environment conducive to social science research,” said CODESRIA. Applications for funding under the initiative closed last month.