Eight Vice Chancellors of African universities have proposed three interlinked actions to revive higher education and the development of research-active universities in Africa.
In an article, Repositioning Africa in global knowledge production, published in The Lancet on August 30, 2018, proposes: differentiation of the higher education system across the continent; new funding mechanisms for research-intensive universities; and new accountability systems for research-intensive universities.
These three approaches aim to create the conditions that will enable African universities to produce knowledge and provide internationally competitive research training. Such investment and restructuring will allow, in particular, early career researchers to increase the amount of time they spend on research and allow academics to devote more time to research training.
The history of how research training has evolved over time in Africa is discussed in the article but a significant part of the current problem is limited funding of universities by African Governments. This is where, the authors argue, one of the solutions must be found. But, they argue, funding beyond this is required and various pooled contributions from funding partners, investment partners and, alumni are proposed. Governments can foster research collaboration through joint basket funding for research to support regional multi-country collaborative research.
Government investment needs to be complemented by investments from regional and continental bodies, bilateral and multilateral development partners, and philanthropic foundations. Funders should designate a portion of their investments in Africa to support research-intensive African universities. The authors propose that these monies need to be invested in research-intensive universities across sub-Saharan Africa. Such universities need to be identified, recognised and strengthened, and these research-intensive universities should focus their resources on graduate training and research.
The authors also propose that accountability measures be developed by the African universities and an ongoing peer review to be done by a supranational body with wide representation should take place every 3–5 years to ensure that designated research-intensive universities meet the accountability standards, do not become complacent and that such a mechanism allows for the entry of upcoming high-achieving universities.
The article recommends a meeting by a Head of State, the African Development Bank or the African Union in partnership with Vice-Chancellors of African universities to facilitate discussions around the three proposals geared towards improving Africa’s contribution to global knowledge production. They conclude that: “These efforts will lay a strong foundation for a new African academy that is fit for purpose in the 21st-century global knowledge system. While universities in sub-Saharan Africa have been marginal to global knowledge production they have started to turn the corner”.
This publication was developed at a meeting of the Vice Chancellors and Heads of partner institutions of the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) at the University of Nairobi on July 10-11, 2017. CARTA is jointly led by the African Population and Health Research Center and the University of the Witwatersrand.
CARTA is a consortium of 18 institutions representing eight African universities, five African research institutions, and several Northern and other institutions to support research capability strengthening at the African universities. Envisaged as a 20-year programme, in its first 10 years, CARTA has supported more than 200 doctoral students who are staff at the African consortium member institutions as well invested in these institutions ability to support research.CARTA research is interdisciplinary in nature and aims to improve public and population health.
The VCs who co-authored the paper are:
- Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, Vice Chancellor, Makerere University, Uganda;
- Prof Eyitope O. Ogunbodede, Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria;
- Prof Adam Habib, Vice Chancellor, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa;
- Prof Idowu Olayinka, Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Nigeria;
- Prof Philip Cotton, Vice Chancellor, University of Rwanda;
- Prof Laban Peter Ayiro, Acting Vice Chancellor, Moi University, Kenya;
- Prof Peter Mulwa Felix Mbithi, Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi;
- Prof Prof A Mtenje PhD, Vice Chancellor, University of Malawi
Sharon Fonn (CARTA, School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa), Frederick Golooba-Mutebi (CARTA) and Alex Ezeh (CARTA, APHRC, School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa).