New programme offers support to postdoctoral scientists

African universities are set to benefit from a new US$2 million programme which will train postdoctoral researchers to support globally competitive research aimed at the creation of knowledge-based economies on the continent.

The African Academy of Sciences, or AAS, and Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa or AESA – an agency of the New Partnership for Africa's Development – announced the programme on 3 April in Nairobi, Kenya.

The new AESA-RISE Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme, which starts its first phase in 2017, responds to an urgent need to build the capacity of African researchers, according to an official statement.

The programme is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and will build on the foundation of the Science Initiative Group’s Regional Initiative in Science and Education, also known as RISE, which has for a decade prepared PhD and masters-level scientists and engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa through competitively selected, university-based research and teaching networks.

According to the UNESCO Science Report Towards 2030, published in 2015, Africa only has 169 scientists per million inhabitants, compared to 428 in Chile and 4,107 in the United Kingdom.

Hence there is need to promote the production, reproduction and transition of knowledge from research laboratories to lecture halls as well as to the halls of government, in order to create an enduring infrastructure for a globally competitive cohort in African universities that will attract international students and researchers.

According to the report, only five African universities have consistently made it into international global rankings – and these are mostly in South Africa – while a lack of research infrastructure and resources has led to an average loss by brain drain of about 20,000 professionals a year since 1990 to countries outside the continent.

These challenges collectively slow down the development, translation and use of scientific discoveries to address the numerous problems such as disease, poverty and education, it states.


Benjamin Apraku Gyampoh, an AAS programme manager, said the academy has developed partnerships with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, the Cambridge-Africa Programme, the Africa Oxford Initiative and the African Research Universities Alliance.

Other partners are the International Science Programme at Uppsala University in Sweden, the University of Basel in Switzerland under the framework of the Swiss–African Research Cooperation and the US-based Science Initiative Group, which implemented RISE to provide mentors and access to quality research.

“We also envisage partnering with other institutions to provide internship opportunities for up to six months where the postdoctoral [researcher] gets to interact more with the mentor on research leadership and undertake components of their study where applicable,” he told University World News.

Gyampoh said selection for the programme will be targeted at higher education institutions with established PhD and postdoctoral programmes as hosts, those with well-established research programmes associated with well-known and highly rated research leaders, and those aspiring to develop into research-intensive universities as the programme progresses.

Gyampoh said top universities in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda will benefit.

Arlen Hastings, director of external projects of the Institute for Advanced Study, said almost all of the PhD-level African scientists on the staff of universities have done their postdoctoral work outside of Africa, and most earned their PhDs overseas as well.

Research in Africa

“The new programme will enable scientists and engineers to pursue high-quality postdoctoral research in Africa,” she told University World News.

According to Hastings, the new programme will seek to strengthen the capacity for universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide high-quality, comprehensive training in areas of science and engineering that are relevant to Africa’s development.

In addition, she said higher institutions and individuals involved in the new programme will have access to expertise and resources across a spectrum of institutions primarily in Africa, but also in Europe and the US.

Hastings said most or all of the candidates for post-doctoral studies through the new programme are employed by universities in Africa, and it is expected that they will return to those universities at the completion of their post-docs, bringing into their departments the expertise and the connections they will have developed.