Thomson Reuters: Research Base in Africa

Thomson Reuters: Research Base in Africa
Thomson Reuters in its Global Research Report series on the changing landscape of the global research base has released a volume on Africa.

This report can provide only an introduction to the patterns of research activity in Africa. The volume of activity remains small, much smaller than is desirable if the potential contribution of Africa’s researchers is to be realized for the benefit of its populations. The challenges that the continent faces are enormous and indigenous research could help provide both effective and focused responses. The resources that are available in some countries are substantial, but they are not being invested in the research base. But other countries with limited resources are making notable and effective contributions of a high standard. Other analyses show that Malawi, with one-tenth the annual research output of Nigeria, produces research of a quality that exceeds the world average benchmark while Nigeria hovers around half that impact level.

Some countries are already mounting research programs with capacity across a range disciplines. The North Africa network of collaboration is strong both in the activity of individual countries, notably Egypt, and the close collaboration between them that will help to address larger challenges. Strong historical ties to France, and also to Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, ensure a high level of external input and links to European programs while new links to Saudi Arabia and to Japan provide the opportunity for participation in emerging networks elsewhere.

The historical legacy of past ties is reflected in the collaborative networks associated with Francophone and Anglophone groups of nations. The Francophone group has the benefit of proximity in West Africa, and this could prove an important regional focus and development opportunity. The Anglophone group has good links to the USA and UK, and its common language base means that it already accesses and is exposed to the international community that uses English for research publication. However, the extent to which collaboration reflects long-term research links or current research interests for G7 partners is not clear. The test will be whether the research activity reflected in these links is maintained when economic constraints start to bite in Europe and North America.

The translation of the emergent SADC regional economic grouping into a research network has not yet happened. The research focus for many members remains further north. South Africa is the outstanding research leader in the region, has by far the greatest research output of any country, well ahead of Egypt in second place, and has high impact for much of its research. Indeed, its capacity and diversity stimulates a comprehensive and diverse portfolio which supports both peaks and platforms in its research By comparison, it is only the peak of other countries’ research activity that emerges into the international literature.

The activity map and collaborative networks make evident a potential transformational role for specific countries. This report has identified a pair of axes, running between Egypt and South Africa and between Nigeria and Kenya, which engage a high proportion of Africa’s research and which link the rest of the continent in collaborative networks. The essential regional role of other countries, such as Cameroon and Tunisia, is also marked. The future of the African research enterprise must depend to some significant extent on the ability of these countries to help facilitate further growth, through leadership, strong local investment and the creation and support of key facilities and centers to draw in and assist currently less well resourced partners.

It would be inappropriate to suggest that the preliminary analysis in this report can provide a clear direction. The information may, however, help to provide a further context to that set by the OECD’s economic reports, while also furnishing background against which to view the pertinent regional dispatches in the UNESCO Science Report 2010, due at mid-year.

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