Warning on Africa’s ‘immature’ educational research landscape

Report finds that female education researchers are outnumbered three-to-one and face ‘multi-faceted’ challenges

April 5, 2024
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There has been a rapid increase in the number of research papers published by African academics in the last two decades, according to a report, but there are concerns that the quality of their research is being hindered by the vast numbers forced to self-fund their work.

The report, from the charity Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA) and the consultancy Southern Hemisphere, outlines what it says is a “promising landscape characterised by the dedication of the actors and rapid growth in research publications”.

The authors, who consulted more than 200 researchers and policymakers across Africa and analysed more than 5,000 publications, say that Africa has made considerable progress in education research in recent years.

They highlight data showing that, of the 6,483 research outputs published between 1980 and 2019, 95 per cent were published in the last 20 years – what the report calls a “rapid increase” in knowledge production.

However, the report mentions a concerning trend – that up to 90 per cent of African education research publications are self-funded, with international sources providing most of the funding for the remaining 10 per cent.

The organisations have warned that this reliance on external funding hinders the quality and quantity of research outputs.

“Our analysis reveals an immature education research landscape across Africa, compounding the challenges of external funding dependency,” they added.

“This disconnect between funding sources and research needs not only diminishes research quality, but also widens the gap between produced research and required knowledge for decision-makers.”

The findings mirror similar conclusions from a 2019 report, which found that a lack of proper funding and capacity had led to substantial gaps in educational research in many sub-Saharan countries.

A quarter of education research across Africa is focused on higher education – with these publications most frequently themed around language and curriculum (21 per cent), information and communication technology (ICT, 15 per cent), and teachers and teaching (10 per cent).

The analysis also shows that the field of education research is dominated by a few specific countries, namely South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.

Laté Lawson, senior research manager at ESSA, said the findings underscored the urgent need to address the funding disparity within African education research.

“While there’s commendable growth and dedication among researchers, the heavy dependence on external sources undermines the autonomy of researchers and the relevance of research to local contexts," said Dr Lawson.

Enhancing African education research would demand a comprehensive strategy, according to Dena Lomofsky, partner and senior consultant at Southern Hemisphere.

“These findings present an opportunity to engage and develop actionable support for African researchers, requiring a concerted effort from funders and decision-makers to prioritise financial resources,” she said.

Outnumbered by three-to-one across sub-Saharan Africa, female education researchers, particularly those early in their careers, face “multi-faceted” challenges, according to the report. It says that female scholars in the field are marginalised and their potential impact limited.

The report recommends that funders, decision-makers and researchers collaborate to support cohesive research agendas aligned with national priorities and promote gender equity.


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