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Findings of major study of science granting councils

January 21, 2014

The first major study of science granting councils in Sub-Saharan Africa has uncovered significant variations between the science, technology and innovation systems in 17 countries and has identified models that capture the most common arrangements for public research funding. The study is expected to make recommendations on the optimal functioning of councils.

The differences between systems across the continent, the researchers found, were based on geography, political and economic (in)stability, socio-economic histories including colonial legacies, and the degree of institutionalisation of research.

The study by the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology – CREST – at the University of Stellenbosch produced a discussion document to inform a workshop of the Science Granting Councils in Sub-Saharan Africa project held outside Cape Town late last year. The project is funded by Canada’s IDRC – International Development Research Centre.

Research and development, or R&D, in Africa is mostly located in universities, science councils, public research institutes and some NGOs, according to the document.

Many governments have committed to increasing gross domestic expenditure on research and development, or GERD, and putting ST&I – science, technology and innovation – policies in place by 2015.

“Few Sub-Saharan Africa countries, however, spend more than 1% of gross domestic product on R&D with Malawi (1.7%), Uganda (1.1%) and South Africa (1.05%) being the only countries to have succeeded thus far.” Nigeria – the region’s most populace country with the biggest university sector – spends only 0.2% on R&D.

In Africa, as in other parts of the world, research and development policies and objectives are implemented through science granting councils and other bodies that have varying mandates ranging from policy formulation, priority setting, programme design and implementation, research funding, capacity development and other advisory functions.

“Despite the significance of these organisations, few systematic studies of science granting councils and related organisations in Africa have been done. This is in contrast to a growing body of scholarship about the nature, roles and functions of such bodies elsewhere.”

Following a decline in support for science in Africa in the 1990s, the importance of building ST&I capacity in developing countries has now been recognised, and “high profile reports outlining new visions, priorities and directions for African ST&I have emerged”, especially from UNESCO, NEPAD, the UN Rio+20 Report and the World Bank.

The 2009 United Nations Millennium Project Report argued that ST&I underpins every Millennium Development Goal “and therefore becomes a prerequisite for development”.

The reports called for the international community’s assistance in promoting technology development, transfer and use in Africa to support countries to build effective ST&I institutions and the capacity to become global knowledge partners, the document says.

The study is expected to provide information on science funding councils, profile good practice, compare organisational structures, show how councils are embedded in the national innovation systems, and make recommendations about the optimal functioning of councils.

It undertook a review of literature and secondary sources, telephone interviews with key people, site visits to most of the countries and the final consultative workshop held in South Africa at the end of last November.

More information and Findings can be accessed here.