Increase research support for the social sciences – Study

Africa needs a dedicated research platform to mobilise and coordinate individual and institutional research support for the social sciences, humanities and the arts (SSHA) to enhance research leadership capacity and minimise research inequalities in Africa, a new study has suggested.

In the study, published in the journal Scientific African, the researchers say such a platform will help to amplify the critical role of SSHA researchers across the continent and strategically position them in discourses around general research capacity strengthening and support in Africa.

The researchers say that the platform should be nested in a larger research support programme – working in concert with the African Union’s research and innovation agenda so as to reap the benefits from existing and established networks, resources, and systems.

Through this platform, the authors suggest that agenda-setting, that works in tandem with local, regional and global development needs and priorities, would be one of the critical aspects of research that will be effectively coordinated.

“In so doing, the role and work done by SSHA researchers across Africa are likely to be amplified and [they can] begin to position themselves in discourses around general research capacity strengthening and support in Africa,” the authors say in their report.

What kind of support exists?

The study, commissioned in 2020 by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and released earlier in June, set out to address the prevailing research inequities and challenges in Africa in the SSHA and related fields.

The researchers conducted a survey including 670 scholars from SSHA disciplines across Africa and held focus group discussions with experts and practitioners engaged in research leadership and capacity-building in SSHA and analysed the strengths and impact of scholarship in SSHA fields.

“We wanted to understand where we are in terms of support given to SSHA on the continent and thus embarked on a landscape survey,” said Obed Ogega, the study’s lead researcher and programme manager at the AAS.

According to Ogega, a research platform would be instrumental in advancing the SSHA research agenda.


The study found that 42.4% of the scholars surveyed received at least one type of research funding from their universities, while a paltry 11% were satisfied with the mentorship support services offered at their universities.

Highlighting that funding and mentorship were key elements of capacity-building, the authors stated that there is an urgent need for more investment to “advocate for, and enhance, research support for SSHA fields and, ultimately, optimise the contribution of SSHA researchers to sustainable development in Africa”.

“It was obvious that there is need for more funding to support research in SSHA in Africa,” Ogega told a virtual meeting on research capacity strengthening in Africa, convened by the AAS recently.

The researchers also found significant regional differences in terms of authorship in peer-reviewed journals. At least 50% of the publications surveyed were authored by researchers from the Southern Africa region, while their counterparts in West Africa contributed about 17% and North and East Africa each accounted for close to 15%.

“Researchers from francophone and lusophone countries were poorly represented, with the two regions accounting for about 5% of the publications assessed,” the researchers said in their report.


African journals, the researchers found, had lower citations compared with journals from other parts of the world, with SSHA-related publications from Africa recording approximately 0.7% of citations per citable documents compared with the global average of 3.5%.

According to Ogega and colleagues, “this calls for more efforts to make African journals more attractive and competitive to enable them to serve as the most appropriate outlet for contextually relevant research in Africa. More investment is also required to enhance the capacity of editorial teams, increase visibility of the journals, and facilitate access to the publications”.

Furthermore, the authors call on Sub-Saharan African governments to reverse historical biases and perceptions that tend to invest more in physical sciences than SSHA subjects.

“There is a need for enhanced and strategic awareness creation to drum up support for SSHA work from governments and the private sector. In so doing, researchers in SSHA will be strategically positioned to benefit from what is increasingly becoming a ‘golden age’ for social sciences,” the researchers said.

Ngandeu Ngatta, the unit head and programme specialist, social and human sciences, from the UNESCO regional office for Eastern Africa, said that the limited investment in SSHA research compared to physical sciences will hinder the realisation of the United Nations Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development.

The importance of social sciences, humanities and the arts were highlighted as well.

“COVID-19 showed us that, beyond medical innovations, behavioural change is the key to combating diseases,” said Peter Atekyereza, the head of the sociology and social anthropology department at Uganda’s Makerere University.

Atekyereza called for the intensification of interdisciplinary research, saying that research should be shared among different users so that knowledge is made accessible.

He called for the creation and strengthening of SSHA professional bodies, just as in the physical sciences, so as to make SSHA “more visible”.