Research in Southern African universities is without a doubt important as these institutions are geared towards providing research that is not only relevant and contextual but are for the betterment of their country’s economic, health and social wellbeing. Southern African universities have had a low impact on Africa’s research with the exception of South Africa when their performance is weighed on the different global rankings. Results from a study by Adams et al. 2010 showed that in 2010, 3 African countries (Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) were noted to account for over 80% of the total scientific papers in Africa. The 2015 Times Higher Education Supplement had six African universities (South Africa & Egypt) in the top 500; 2016 & 2020, Times Higher Education had the following African countries represented: South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria & Uganda; 2016-2017 QS World University Rankings had 7 South African universities in the top 700 – No other African country represented. Borrowed from Olsson & Cooke (2013:18) and modified is that “Southern African universities are the engines of their local and regional knowledge development and natural leaders of their own evolving academic systems.”
Building of research capacity in Southern African universities will require amongst others targeting critical areas such as fewer staff with advanced degrees; poor research and publishing skills; competing responsibilities between teaching and research; poor retention of staff who are capable of publishing but leave due to limited resources and infrastructure; lack of research partnerships and collaborations; and/or working in an institution with a poor research culture.
A desktop review was conducted using convenience sampling. The sample included 15 African Universities that featured twice in the 2016 & 2020 THE World University Rankings. These were: South Africa: the University of Cape Town, University of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University, University of Pretoria, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, University of South Africa; Uganda: Makerere University; Ghana: University of Ghana; Kenya: University of Nairobi; Egypt: Suez Canal University, Alexandria University, Cairo University; Morocco: University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad, Mohammed V University of Rabat; and Nigeria: University of Ibadan. The desktop study assessed the research capacity of these institutions with the aim of developing guidelines for strengthening research and collaboration in Southern African universities.
Some of the results from the desktop review include research by Mba, D (2019) for the period 2014 – 2019 showed that the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) have 30%-35% of their scholarly output published in the top 10% of global academic journals with 60% and 54% international co-authors respectively while the University of Ibadan has 15% of all its outputs published in the top 10% of academic journals; 38% of its publications were co-authored with institutions in other countries. Further, UCT is also known for its investment in research infrastructure and collaborating with other institutions. One of their collaborations is the African Research Cloud (ARC), a collaboration between UCT, IDIA and North-West University, is the prototype for a cloud-based service to researchers working in data-intensive disciplines. Established in 2016, the ARC is testing different models of data management, storage and transfer through radio astronomy and genomics projects.
A review of the university websites, as well as publicly available annual reports, showed how the University of Ibadan reported how the institution has seen an increase in funding since it joined the Research Professional platform in 2008 with the assistance of their research office. As a result of receiving grants, the university produced 7,950 peer-reviewed publications from 2010 to 2013, according to Thomson Reuters. The University of Ghana at the end of the 2014/2015 academic year, had signed various research grant agreements with a total value of USD 52,524,883.11. The university also reported to have invested in four of their Centres of Excellence, looking into development issues in their country. Makerere University’s strategies include publishing more research in high impact journals, publishing more research in Open Access Journals, submitting research publications to the Makerere Institutional repository (makir.mak.ac.ug), etc. In 2017/2018, The Stellenbosch University signed Joint PhD degrees with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Jean Monet at Saint Etienne in France. The Suez Canal University Research Plan (2013 – 2023) is detailed and deliberate about research performance. Some of their objectives are to strengthen research capacity and infrastructure for scientific research, attracting researchers from Arab countries and other countries and collaborations for research funding, visibility and capacity. University of Marrakech Cadi Ayyad (UCA)’s scientific research strategy is to improve research structures within international and multidisciplinary scientific communities, encourage the mobility of researchers and promote an international openness through reflecting its clear vision for research and innovation.
Based on some of the recommendations from the study, critical to Southern African universities’ research future is the strengthening of research capacity looking into research strategic goals and policies that promote research culture and focused on strengthening research; the establishment of strategic research collaborations and partnerships for both publications and research collaboration (bringing visibility to both the academic and institution); investment in research infrastructure to promote research; sourcing of research grants; funded programs dedicated to the development of young and female academics and the development and focus of research priority areas; and investing in academic staff to acquire PhD qualifications – the deficit in the number of PhD holders among academic staff affects the timely completion of research programmes among postgraduate students and staff publications
There are lessons to be learnt from universities in the African continent who are deemed ‘successful’ on the global stage such as the 15 African Universities that featured twice in the 2016 & 2020 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Each Southern African university would, however, need to take its context into account and be innovative in building their own research capacity.
Written by Ms. Zamakayise Kose, North-West University, South Africa
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- University websites were also viewed for further information.