Urgent work is needed to improve collaboration between UK and African academics, the British Academy has warned.
A study by the Association of Commonwealth Universities for the British Academy said there needs to be a far greater understanding of the difficulties faced by staff in African universities.
The report says African universities have suffered a "20-year or more period of neglect", largely ignored by the international community, which has left them struggling to retain staff and with "woefully inadequate" infrastructure. But the African Union has now declared higher education a priority for continent-wide development, and there is "cause for optimism".
African universities rely heavily on external funding for research, which accounts for about 70 to 90 per cent of all African research funding, the report says.
The report, Frameworks for Africa-UK Research Collaboration in the Social Sciences and Humanities , identifies a strong desire for UK-African research collaborations but highlights "many impediments".
It calls for support for African efforts to improve research by sharing access to resources and information and by making funding schemes responsive to African university conditions. It recommends improved support for the training and development of staff in Africa, including the expansion of doctoral training and promotion of mentoring between senior and junior scholars to facilitate contacts and mobility.
Graham Furniss, a member of the British Academy's Africa Panel, which commissioned the report, added: "To solve a problem you need to understand it. African answers to African issues rely upon the capacity of African universities to do good research. There is good research (and) there could be more. What can the UK do to help? In this report, African academics put forward their views on the current impediments they face and their needs for the future."
The report's findings will be discussed at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in February 2008, organised by the ACU, the Royal African Society and the African Studies Association of the UK.
Lem Atanga, an assistant lecturer at the University of Dschang, Cameroon, and Commonwealth scholar, said: "This report has been very instrumental in identifying and highlighting some of the crucial issues relating to funding and research in Africa."