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Poor research output: 16 African varsities to the rescue

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Poor research output: 16 African varsities to the rescue
  • Continent contributes 1% to global research output
  • ˜ Two research centres birth at UNILAG

 

 

Given Africa’s low research output, which is one per cent of total global output, some 16 African universities, under the platform of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), have risen to the challenge of making African universities more visible on the global research map.

 

 

 

Worried by the menace of extreme poverty and hunger, high level of illiteracy, gender inequality, child mortality, poor maternal health, prevalence of HIV/ AIDS, malaria and other diseases, as well as environmental disasters, among numerous other challenges ravaging Africa, no fewer than 16 leading universities on the continent have teamed up to chart a common front in a new approach to provoke demand-driven research outputs that will address these challenges and rewrite the continent’s history. Under the collaboration, the universities seek to make research a key focus of their interventions, as part of moves to address the numerous challenges confronting the continent.

The collaboration is coming under the auspices of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), founded in 2015 to change research narratives of the African universities, as part of the core mandate of research and community development to improve the society. To represent Nigeria in the group are three Nigerian ivory towers, which are the University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Ibadan (UI) and the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, while South Africa is being represented by its leading six universities. They are the University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Stellenbosch, University of Pretoria, Rhodes University and University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The other universities are the University of Ghana; University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; University of Nairobi, Kenya; University of Rwanda; University Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal; Makerere University, Uganda, and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. The motive behind the initiative, according to the Secretary of the forum and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, is to expand and enhance significantly the quality of research activities in Africa by African scholars.

He described the current research output from the continent as lamentable, saying the total output accounted for only one per cent of the global research contributions. Going by this setback, he said the African Research Universities Alliance was expected that within the first 10 decade of its existence it would increase African contribution to global research output to five per cent.

He said: “With its secretariat currently located at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, ARUA is intended to develop local research excellence through collaboration to find solutions to the development problems of Africa. It is set to become a Pan-African network for bringing research and academic excellence to the fore throughout the region by developing strong and viable research universities.”

“We must understand that when global institutions like the United Nations formulate policies and initiate programmes,they only take into considerations reports of researches conducted in various parts of the world. However, there is yet to be meaningful contributions from African researches, and that is why many of the solutions provided for our challenges have continued to fail. “Whether MDGs or SDGs, Africa will continue to fail to achieve the goals except quality researches are done on the continent by the people of the continent. So, without researches, we cannot achieve the SDGs.”

It was, therefore, part of efforts towards fulfilling its mandates that member universities of ARUA across the continent joined by their global counterparts and funders such as the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), last Thursday, gathered at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Lagos, to launch two of its targeted 13 research centres to address the identified themes already listed.

The identified themes, which ARUA hopes to focus its research activities on, include; Climate Change, Food Security, Non-Communicable Diseases, Materials Development and Nanotechnology, Energy and Water Conservation. Others are Mobility and Migration, Poverty and Inequality, Unemployment and Skills Development, Notions of Identity, Good Governance, Post-Conflict Societies, Urbanisation and Habitable Cities. Of these 13 thematic areas, proposals presented by the University of Lagos in the fields of Unemployment and Skills Development, and Urbanisation and Habitable Cities, were according to Aryeetey adjudged the best among many others.

The development, he said, informed the approval of the two centres for the university to serve all researchers working in the areas across the continent and beyond. Welcoming guests at the inauguration ceremony, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, said he was proud that the dream of making the university a hub of impactful research was already becoming a reality. He thanked the staff and management of the institution for sharing in his administration’s dream, saying each day that passes, the university hinges towards attaining the enviable position of his dream.

He said: “We are determined to make this university a force to reckon with in the area of research and innovations. Just yesterday, I received a call from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) that our entrepreneurship centre is the best in the country and that it is being recommended for others to learn and take a cue from. “These two centres are also good testimonies of our determination to reposition the university. At these cen-tres, we shall produce results that will impact the lives of Nigerians, Africans and the world at large. So we welcome researchers with innovative ideas that will directly and indirectly contribute to our growth and development.”

In his presentation, the Founding Director of the new Centre for Housing and sustainable Development which is in charge of Urbanisation and Habitable Cities in Africa, Prof. Gbenga Nubi, noted that the project became very important due to the porosity of African cities and the impacts on the human lives. Nubi, who is a Housing and Urban Regeneration expert, explained that across Africa, 50 per cent of inhabitants in cities live in slums and that as long as the status quo ante remains, the menace of communicable diseases, traffic logjam, and overstretched facilities, among others, will continue unabated.

The centre, he concluded, would, therefore, be committed to providing solutions to these societal problems through quality home-grown researches that will set agenda for the world. In a similar development, the Founding Director for the Centre of Excellence for Unemployment and Skills Development, Dr. Sunday Adebisi, said the centre became necessary in addressing the major challenge of unemployment confronting the continent, and Nigeria in particular. Painting a depressed picture of African development indices, he lamented that out of the global 7.2 billion population, Africa accounts for 1.25 billion with more than 500 million people suffering acute poverty and hunger.

“Therefore, if the position of Africa must change meaningfully in relationship to other continents in the delivery of quality of life, wealth, sound economy and competitive countries; then a strong and virile Africa Research Centre of Excellence dedicated to entrepreneurship and skills development that would provide sustainable solutions to unemployment, poverty eradication for global competitiveness is a must have, and in deed, a must executed,” Adebisi said.

This was as the vice-chancellor pledged that whoever has sustainable innovative ideas among the university’s undergraduates, will be supported with appreciable start-up capital to implement the innovation and make it a competitive brand. Meanwhile, the representative of the UKRI, Jackie Williams, said the research institute has entered into an agreement with ARUA to support each of the universities with about N72 million ($200,000) for research. She added that qualified universities among the ARUA members must be ready to commit N18 million ($50,000) before accessing the N72 million.

The condition, she noted, was to ensure the commitment of the institutions to the projects. But, earlier in his remarks, Aryeetey commended the management of UNILAG for its support and dedication to the ARUA vision, saying it is one of the institutions that promptly paid their annual subscription fees. He said: “We must commend UNILAG for its focus and commitment to ARUA mandate.

The incumbent vice-chancellor and his predecessor, Prof. Rahamon Bello have been exemplary in their contributions to the success of this vision. We are very convinced that we will achieve the targeted results within schedule because everyone is committed to changing the story of Africa.” The research centres’ inauguration at the UNILAG drew researchers across many universities on the continent and beyond, with the ARUA Secretary, Aryeetey, noting: “If these centres only serve this country, then we have failed in our mission.”

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