The majority of African governments are prioritising political projects at the expense of research in universities and this is affecting the continent’s development, academics have said.
Experts at a just-concluded meeting in Kigali also argued that when there is need for innovation, governments hire expensive researchers from outside the continent to deal with a project that would otherwise have been worked on by nationals.
“African governments are full of politicians and their priorities are different. Research products take time to manifest and all they think of is investing in projects that can win them the next election,” said Professor A. Ajuwon, a lecturer at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan.
According to statistics from Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), South Africa accounts for 0.4% and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa 0.2% of the global gross expenditure on research and development.
Prof. Peter Ngure, the CARTA program manager, explains that research is the backbone of development, because there is no critical programme governments can embark on without having carried out evidence based research.
“We are faced with a serious funding gap yet the core of post-graduate training is research. This affects the economic development of countries because besides promoting brain drain, the rate at which Africa is producing books for sale is very low,” he told The New Times.
The dons, some of them deans and directors of graduate schools from private and public universities in East Africa, observe that low investments in research creates weak environment for innovation, and stifles human capacity development making it harder to break the cycle of poverty.
Prof. Dr. Tombora Gustave, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Rwanda’s University of Tourism and Business Studies (UTB), says that government should establish an independent national research council to primarily guide policy makers and decisions.
“Universities now compete for research grants through governments’ bilateral cooperation with donors and these are mainly for capacity building and not research. There should be a research body just like you see Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), or Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) dedicated to research,” he said.
Statistics also show that South Africa spends 0.9% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development while its 0.3% for rest of Sub-Saharan Africa compared to Israel at 4.8%. Japan spends 3.4%, while the United States spends 2.7% and Germany 2.5%.
Gross domestic product is a monetary measure of the market value of all final goods and services produced in a period (quarterly or yearly) of time
“Many of the commitments at African Union (AU) level that would have saved the situation only remain on paper and aren’t implemented,” Ngure points out.
But Prof. Alexandre Lyambabaje, the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) executive secretary, differs from the argument that governments have done little.
He argues that the main challenge has been lack of collaboration between government research institutions and tertiary institutions.
“For instance, we have research institutions like National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda and Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) in Rwanda. There is only need to strengthen collaboration in these institutions with universities and we shall be good to go,” he said.
For Prof. Adamson Muula, a lecturer at the University of Malawi, universities haven’t made themselves relevant to attract government support.
‘Until such a time when universities in Africa will start solving local problems, for now they are still far from getting funding from their governments. If one wants their product to be sold, it is important that they make it attractive,” Muula said.
Dr Placidius Ndibalema, a lecturer at Tanzania’s University of Dodoma, agrees that governments have paid more attention to academic infrastructure development but not invested in research.
“We have a loan board for students. They take loans which are repaid to governments after school. But even then, this loan only goes to students in public universities and not students in private universities,” Ndibalema said.