Universities must strive to produce 100,000 PhDs in a decade

Universities in Africa must strive to produce about 100,000 PhDs in the next 10 years to yield the research the continent needs for accelerated development.

According to the recommendation, which came from the World Bank, universities should aim to produce a higher number of researchers in response to the need to create jobs and opportunities for the continent’s fast-growing population, as well as the challenges it faces in areas such as climate change, diseases, food security and political instability.

The 100,000 must not be seen as a huge number, considering that China, with a population that is nearly the same as that of Africa, manages to produce that number each year, as does the United States, which has an even lower population, said Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, the vice-chancellor of Uganda’s Makerere University.

What Africa needs, he said, is not to be content with the target set, but to aim, instead, to produce an even higher number of researchers considering the enormous developmental challenges posed by a projected youth explosion in the next 30 years.

“The report we have launched today gives pointers as to why Africa needs more and more PhDs,” said Nawangwe, who is also the chairman of the African Research Universities Alliance, or ARUA, during the launch of member universities’ institutional profiles on 4 November.

ARUA is a network of 16 selected flagship research universities in Africa with a common vision to expand and significantly enhance the quality of research carried out by African researchers. The network has been operational since March 2015, when it was inaugurated in Dakar, Senegal.

Research report

The report, which is being updated with additional information before it will be shared with stakeholders, presents an analysis of Phase II of the Carnegie Corporation-sponsored data benchmarking study of ARUA universities, focusing on the research profiles of the universities, and covers the period 2015-21, including a bibliometric analysis of the research productivity of the universities.

Universities, Nawangwe observed, continued to grapple with the challenge of low funding despite the task ahead of them, a problem he traced to the 1990s when Structural Adjustment Programmes or SAPs, were imposed on Africa by the Bretton Woods institutions.

The SAPs in some cases led to “commercialisation of programmes” as universities sought to survive financial cuts prescribed by the lenders.

“The effects of the cuts have been devastating ever since, and it’s a shame that, despite Africa holding 20% of the world’s population, is only contributing 3% of global knowledge, which is not acceptable,” he said.

Doctorate training in Africa must, however, be seen as much more than mere research productivity, but also a driver of development, said Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

In many instances, she noted, it had emerged that universities with a high number of PhD-level academics did not always produce the highest research output.

The institutional profile report, she observed, provided a good opportunity for universities to “know each other”, while offering potential partners a true picture of what the institutions have to offer.

Equity in partnerships

The report, which covered a range of issues, had demonstrated the invaluable importance of investing in long-term relationships between universities, as opposed to merely collaborating on specific projects, said Sir Anton Muscatelli, the vice-chancellor of the United Kingdom’s University of Glasgow.

It also emphasised the importance of equity in research partnerships for the collaborations to be effective and successful, particularly the North-South ones.

“I’m proud of the ARUA universities’ contribution to Gobal South in various partnerships with the University of Glasgow. I’m happy we are providing solutions to some of the challenges that are ahead for Africa,” he added, with reference to past joint work with ARUA’s universities of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, among others, in tropical diseases research.

Vice-chancellors of the 16 member universities had an opportunity to learn from the report on areas that needed strengthening, information they should share with their respective councils, said Professor Ernest Aryeetey, the ARUA secretary-general.

The report not only offered them an opportunity to know their weaknesses and work on them, he said, but also a chance for doing a comparison for purposes of benchmarking and knowing where they needed to go in the future.

It also proved that the institutions needed to be “engaged with each other and within their region” if they were to become “globally competitive”, he added.

• Stellenbosch University in South Africa has announced that it will award an honorary doctorate to Professor Ernest Aryeetey in December. Aryeetey will be awarded the degree Doctor of Commerce (DCom), honoris causa. He is the former vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana and, in addition to having been instrumental in the establishment of ARUA, he has spearheaded the identification of 13 research areas to facilitate interdisciplinary research collaboration and created 11 ARUA centres of excellence. Aryeetey is also a member of the University World News – Africa board.