Africa needs to ramp up STEM research

World Bank report says countries of sub-Saharan Africa need more and better postgraduate qualifications

October 9, 2014

The countries of sub-Saharan Africa need to scale up postgraduate education to boost research capacity, the World Bank says in a new report.

The pace of growth in the region’s science base is too slow compared with that seen in countries that had similar research outputs 10 years ago, according to the report, A Decade of Development in Sub-Saharan African Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Research.

It also raises concerns about the “high reliance” that sub-Saharan science has on international collaboration, which risks making its research irrelevant.

The report, produced by the World Bank and Elsevier, analyses the output and citation impact of scientific research in the region between 2003 and 2012. It compares progress with that made in South Africa and that of the research bases in Malaysia and Vietnam, countries that had similar outputs to sub-Saharan Africa in 2003.

It finds that although the region has greatly increased the quantity and quality of its research, from 0.44 per cent of world share in 2003 to 0.72 per cent in 2012, the growth lags behind that of the Asian countries and remains a “far cry” from sub-Saharan Africa’s 12 per cent share of the global population.

The growth in sub-Saharan African research has been driven “overwhelmingly” by health sciences, which now account for 45 per cent of all output. Better STEM skills and knowledge will be needed to build stronger economies, it argues.

The report recommends additional national and international investment in master’s and doctorate-level education with a focus on STEM subjects.

It also notes that a large proportion of researchers in sub-Saharan Africa are from outside the region. Such international collaboration is “highly instrumental” in raising the citation impact of African science, but it remains a “concern” for the World Bank, the report notes. “[I]t signals a lack of internal research capacity and the critical mass to produce international quality research on its own.”

High researcher mobility may also hinder academia in building relationships with local businesses and government, thus “reducing the economic impact and relevance of research”, the report adds.

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