Can Mozambique fast-track innovation?

In an effort to achieve knowledge-based sustainable development, the UNESCO report, titled Mapping Research and Innovation in the Republic of Mozambique, urges the Southern African country to expand postgraduate studies and promote high-quality research and innovation.

The report was published in February 2021.

University World News asked higher education experts how the report should be put into action with a special focus on developing postgraduate education and research in Mozambique.

Michael Kahn, author of the UNESCO report and professor extraordinaire in the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said Mozambique’s science system is strongly oriented towards bio-medicine, that reflects the high burden of disease and the availability of international funding to support associated research.

“With the incipient oil and gas boom in Mozambique, there will be a strong demand for engineers, environmentalists, social scientists and technologists to exploit the financial benefits wisely,” said Kahn, who is also a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Mozambique should follow the approach Norway took and establish a sovereign wealth fund to ensure national development, he said. The focus should be on developing the talent pool that will be needed to assure sovereignty and independence, Kahn suggested.

“The first step would be to sketch out a talent master plan, with careful selection of associated masters and doctoral programmes,” he said, adding that establishing a national university of research and innovation to draw in local and international talent should be considered.

Building robust tertiary institutions

Dr Moses Osiru, the manager of the regional coordination unit of the PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya, said: “Building on recent positive gross domestic product growth between 2011 and 2017, Mozambique needs to urgently increase its teaching and research capacity, particularly in the applied sciences, engineering and technology fields, to be able to better highlight the direction and velocity of its economic growth and development.”

In this regard, Mozambique is contributing to important regional initiatives such as the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) and its Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund, which are focused on training high-quality faculty in the applied sciences, engineering and technology fields at PhD level, supporting the building of new university departments aligned to growth strategies and increasing the participation of women in science fields, Osiru said.

“Building robust tertiary education institutions will be important to sustainably escalate PhD training and, indeed, the proportion of women and girls who take up science careers and increasing local knowledge production and innovation, to make the country more globally competitive,” he said.

Creating postgraduate training programmes

According to Professor Emília Virgínia Noormahomed of the faculty of medicine at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, higher education institutions in the country should have a dedicated budget to support the creation and implementation of postgraduate training programmes such as masters and PhD degrees, as well as scholarships for students entering these programmes.

“Monetary and non-monetary incentives should be created to stimulate faculty members from these institutions to write research grants that will bring in resources to improve teaching and research infrastructure,” Noormahomed said.

“As Mozambique has a paucity of human resources to teach and mentor postgraduate students, South-South and North-South collaboration should be fostered through the use of digital platforms,” she said.

Noormahomed, co-author of the 2019 study “Closing the gaps on medical education in low-income countries through information and communication technologies: The Mozambique experience”, feels the country should invest more in information and communication technologies tools for teaching and research.

This would help in reducing inequities within and outside the country, she said.

Professor Pedro Uetela, a higher education expert also at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, said the country must establish strong research networks with highly ranked universities either within Africa or outside to enable mobility of reputable staff from their host institutions to Mozambique to share their experiences, offering either seminars or supervision including outstanding teaching.

English and Portuguese language policy

The use of English in postgraduate programmes with a focus on PhDs should be mandatory or as an alternative. The language of instruction should be split 50-50 between English and Portuguese, Uetela said.

Such a language policy could attract international researchers which would strengthen Mozambican scholarship, making it more international, global and competitive.

Uetela’s views on language policy are in line with a December 2020 study titled “An analysis of the use of English language for career development in African higher education: The case of two Mozambican flagship universities”.

The study explores the role English plays and particularly how it affects research and publications.

Uetela said experts in academia needed to be empowered to apply for research grants to ensure funding from international agencies.

This could reduce the pressure on the country to prioritise higher education funding, especially post-graduate programmes, which Mozambique simply cannot afford.

“Science-based gas and oil research programmes at universities and associated scientific centres must be established away from any business or political orientations in order to maximise knowledge in approaching gas and oil investments as an asset for achieving sustainable development,” Uetela said.

Sustainable funding

Mozambican native Dr Carmeliza Rosario, social and development anthropologist and researcher at the Chr Michelsen Institute in Norway, said: “Based on previous research on higher education in Mozambique, there are at least three issues that need to be addressed to expand postgraduate studies and ensure high-quality research and innovation.”

Funding is a dire need. “The funding that departments and faculties currently receive from partners is ad hoc and insufficient, often based on projects that cannot continue once funding ends,” Rosario said.

“Funds that support PhD students abroad do not provide enough for the students to fully immerse themselves in their studies as they have families (often extended) that they need to consider and, when they return home, they have teaching and administrative responsibilities that they need to attend to,” she added.

Rosario highlighted the fact that PhD students who study in-country often do so while working, which extends their period of study.

“PhD students often only publish while they are doing their PhDs, because research track is not commonly an option,” she pointed out.

“Therefore, a research track should be a viable option and also be well-funded permanently (perhaps by the industry and not the usual development partners), and not only connected to degrees,” Rosario suggested.

In these circumstances, innovation can thrive, she said, adding that there are examples of innovative breakthroughs, while funding lasted.

Dr Nelson Casimiro Zavale of the faculty of education at Eduardo Mondlane University said the government must increase investment and funding in higher education and research above the current 0.33% gross domestic expenditure on research and development.

“So far, the government does not directly fund postgraduation education, particularly PhDs, as most of the domestically available postgraduate and PhD programmes are either poorly funded through student tuition fees or sporadically or unsustainably funded through donor projects,” Zavale said.

“As a result, Mozambique has a low share of active researchers, partly because of its inadequate capacity of domestic production of researchers at PhD level.”

He suggested that the government should increase its domestic funding to research and innovation and reduce the dependency on donors.

“There is a need to introduce incentives to make the research career attractive, but these incentives should be accompanied by measures for regularly assessing, monitoring and rewarding individual and institutional performance in research and innovation,” Zavale pointed out.