Africa’s biggest research alliance seen improving relevance, volume of output
Widening research gap has led some research intensive universities south of the Sahara into a coalition aimed at improving the continent’s ability to generate solutions to its own challenges and increase contribution to global research output.
Sixteen African universities from eight countries coalesced to form the African Universities Research Alliance (ARUA), in 2015, the biggest sub-Saharan African research bloc. The focus has been on building indigenous research excellence to enable the continent to take control of its future and assert itself as a powerful global force. Among these universities are Nigeria’s Universities of Lagos, Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo. Others are the Universities of Ghana and Nairobi, six South African Universities (Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal, and Pretoria among others), University of Rwanda, Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal, Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
What this means is that African researchers are ready to improve the volume of their contribution to world’s research, which is estimated to be about 1 percent according to a World Bank report. This would also increase the research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). STEM research makes up 29 percent of Sub Saharan Africa’s output, leaving a gap in many countries’ ability to enhance sectors like energy, transport, light manufacturing and the extractive industries. Yet progress in these sectors could transform Africa’s economies and help end poverty.
“The aim of this initiative is to enable African universities take their proper place in resolving African challenges and in the scheme of things in Africa in terms of development, science, technology and all the economic output that should come from it. If universities came together, to share strengths, the multiplier effects would be enormous. This is because South African universities have a set of strengths, West African universities have different strengths as well as East African universities” said, Wellington Oyibo, professor of medical parasitology and director, Research and Innovation Centre at the University of Lagos.
“When these strengths are shared, and leveraged upon development could easily be escalated across the sub-regions. And let it be on record that Rahmon Ade Bello, the vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos has been at the foremost front, driving this initiative to its fruition. He has been in all the meetings” Oyibo added.
People with firsthand experience and knowledge of the education system in Africa say the set of problems for much of Sub Saharan Africa is low quality of basic education in science and mathematics, a higher education system skewed toward disciplines like the humanities and social sciences, and low levels of international funding that focus heavily on health and agricultural research.
“Africa currently contributes less than 1 percent to global research output, even if that is growing now. Clearly that is too little. If Africa wants to develop faster, it needs to engage in more research. The best way to do this through collaboration and inter-linkages” said Ernest Aryeetey, secretary-general of ARUA and former vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana, in an interview with University World News, a higher education web publisher.
“Over the years, there have been smaller groupings and research networks in Africa but nothing as formal as ARUA, and nothing that brings together this number of top-level institutions, and focused solely on research” Aryeetey affirmed.
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