African academics must increase research outputs

Features Correspondent
African academics should sharpen their skills and improve scientific outcomes to build the continent’s knowledge economy and enhance its competitiveness in the new industrial revolution, top researchers say.

Prof Stella Nkomo, a renowned South African researcher, told participants at a British Academy writing workshop for sub-Saharan Africa, held at the University of Zimbabwe, that there was need to promote a research culture among African universities to generate high quality knowledge.

“African universities must strengthen their organisational and research culture to generate new knowledge that could address some of the challenges facing the continent,” she said.

“We should look at the enablers or constraints of research in Africa. For academics to do research for Africa they need resources. This is a key enabler, the blockade is much bigger than the individual and we need resources.”

The University of Nottingham and the Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education (Zimche), in partnership with the University of Zimbabwe, with funding support from the British Academy organised the workshop.

The workshop was held under the theme “Writing for sustainable development: Towards strengthening African grant and research writing for publication.”

Workshop organiser Juliet Thondlana, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, said the workshop sought to strengthen the grant writing and impact publication capacities of 50 career researchers based at universities in six selected Sub-Saharan African countries that included Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The workshop was held at a time there are growing calls for African countries to focus on increasing academics’ publishing outputs to ensure dissemination of their research.

“Africa contributes very little to international knowledge creation and we see this in global journals,” said Thondlana.

“African research outputs are not visible in most global research journals and this is why we need to focus more on developing this capacity. Developing such capacity will help our academics to take on the requisite research and academic writing practices.

“It will help to build confidence among the continent’s academics.”

Most African universities are still struggling to produce high impact research papers, conduct data analysis, dissemination and implement recommendations from academics.

Africa has a low research output, which is 1 percent of the total global output, despite comprising 12,5 percent of the world’s population.

“It is incumbent upon us to set the pace in scientific advancement, knowledge creation and generation, innovation and dissemination of information in order to provide solutions to challenges that face our communities, regions and the globe,” said UZ Vice Chancellor Prof Paul Mapfumo, in a speech read on his behalf by Prof Rosemary Moyana.

“Unless our academics are committed to creating and generating knowledge, we are, Africa in particular, destined to play second fiddle in all spheres of intellectual, technological and scientific development.”

Prof Kuzvinetsa Peter Dzvimbo, chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education (ZIMCHE), urged African universities to produce their own learning materials and move away from depending heavily of foreign books and other educational materials.

“Before the workshop started I interacted with some students at the UZ Geology Department and none had books written by our own academics,” he said.

“They all carried books written by academics from the global North. We really need to think seriously about this. We have to change this and focus more on changing the DNA of graduates through creating our own knowledge systems.

“As early career researchers, you are the future of the African continent in terms of producing new knowledge that we produce as a people. We must move away from a dependency paradigm in which we consume what we do not produce.”

African academics still face multiple obstacles, such as the biases inherent in the publishing industry.

To overcome some of these problems, Thondlana said the workshop had brought top African publishers to discuss the barriers and explore ways to encourage the publication of African scholarly outputs.

Africa desperately needs homegrown solutions to address the myriad problems it faces.

The continent faces significant challenges around food security, climate change, infrastructure development, poverty, energy, water sanitation, life expectancy, communicable/non-communicable disease management and HIV/AIDS.

To explore these problems, the African research community requires access to the tools and skills that would help them tackle those challenges.

In addition to this, African scholars need access to funding mechanisms and viable ways to disseminate research in the global community.

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