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Research Article
Open Access Peer-reviewed

Research Funding Needs for African Engineers: Challenges and Perceptions

Eugine Makaya
American Journal of Educational Research. 2017, 5(9), 933-938. DOI: 10.12691/education-5-9-1
Published online: September 26, 2017

Abstract

Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, with the exception of South Africa, have lately lagged behind in postgraduate research, an issue attributed to lack of research funding for engineering sciences. This paper investigated the funding needs of engineering sciences in Africa. Specifically, it established the funding needs of African engineering sciences, factors affecting higher learning institutions in securing research funding and assessed the prevalent engineering research needs for Africa. Key informants to this paper were postdoctoral candidates drawn from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Through a questionnaire survey, the study found out that Africa has the capacity to carry out high profile engineering researches but the funding needs are not fully met resulting in frustration, whose ripple effects culminate in brain drain. Institutional frameworks in many African countries have been found not favouring engineering sciences. Although efforts are being made, as evidenced by increase in scientific publications, the growth of Engineering Sciences lags behind other disciplines. Thus, the international community of research funders should forge partnerships and collaborations with engineering institutions in Africa for availing and putting to good use research funding.

1. Introduction

Higher education in Africa is not spared by a myriad of growth and development challenges being faced by other continents 1. However, research in engineering sciences can play a vital role in mitigating economic and developmental handicaps of Africa. This is because engineering research can bring about technological innovations that can improve living standards and general life expectancy 2.

Research output from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is less than 1% of the global research output despite having 12% of global population 3. Although advances in health sciences are contributing 45% of research output, Engineering and Technology contribute only 15%. The research contribution of engineering and technology has marginally declined by 2% since 2002, suggesting that the disciplines have been facing challenges that hamper their progress 4. Global research funding is argued to be insufficient to meet all research needs 5. The developing world suffers from a widespread disparity in eminence of research capacity 5. A case of Nigeria, which is the largest economy in Africa, has more than 10,000 academic staff in public universities, but less than 50% of them has a PhD course 6.

Research collaboration (both North-South and South-South) is an important means of building research capacity and generating relevant knowledge. Inter-regional collaborations in Africa have not borne positive results. Between 0.9% and 2.9% inter-regional collaboration and inter-African collaboration (except for South African) comprises 2% of all East African research, 0.9% of West and Central Africa, and 2.9% of Southern Africa 3. The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for Southern Africa stands at 8.5% while for West and Central Africa it is at 12.7% 3.

Lack of funding and the enabling environment have been cited as some of the key challenges faced by engineering sciences in SSA 4. These problems are increased by the degradation of the engineering research infrastructure due to inadequate investment over many years 2. Engineering sciences in SSA, except for South Africa, have not developed the same way as other academic courses and as such it would be of paramount importance to explore the challenges that African engineers face in acquiring research funding. Understanding such challenges enables funding organizations to provide the necessary interventions that would enhance research in engineering sciences. This paper equips engineering researchers with options and opportunities at their disposal. It analyses the challenges experienced by engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa in accessing research funding. Specifically, the paper seeks to characterize engineering funding needs for researchers in SSA, identifies existing funding options for postdoctoral researchers and explores the research funding challenges, perceptions and perspectives for SSA.

2. Research Methodology

A questionnaire was applied to a sample of 15 postdoctoral (Engineering Sciences) candidates. These were drawn from sub-Saharan Africa during a postdoctoral fellow selection conference held in Kenya in June 2015. The research findings were analysed using descriptive statistics, presented in tables and charts.

3. Results and Discussion

3.1. Institutions from which African Faculties Obtain Their Doctoral Degrees

This paper also sought to establish the sources and distribution of doctoral studies within African university faculties. The sources of doctoral degrees for African engineers are shown in Table 1.

The largest number (48%) of African engineers obtained their doctoral degrees in Europe with UK alone contributing 15%. African universities contribute only 13% of doctoral degrees in Engineering Sciences. 16% of doctoral degrees by African nationals are from America. This is because in America foreign nationals comprise more than 40% of graduate enrolments in physical sciences, mathematics and computer science, and engineering 2.

3.2. Success Rate in Attracting Research Funding

When researchers apply for funding, they either succeed or fail due to the competitiveness of the calls for funding. The probability of success in securing research funding at each level is shown in Table 2. There is 35% success probability that one gets a postdoctoral research funding in Engineering Sciences, if one applies meeting all minimum requirements.

3.3. Transitioning from One Academic Level to Another

The average time taken by a student/researcher before being admitted to a given academic level is shown in Table 3. It takes about 1.25 years after high school in Africa before getting an undergraduate place to study engineering related courses. On the other hand, it takes 2.31 years after graduate school for one to initiate doctoral studies.

3.4. The Capacity of African Engineering Research Centres to Conduct Doctoral and Postdoctoral Research

It was unanimously agreed by all respondents that Africa has the capacity to carry out both doctoral and postdoctoral research. However, 7% respondents indicated that although the capacity is there, some African countries and other engineering research centres have no capacity to carry out both doctoral and postdoctoral studies. It is believed that poor African countries lack research capacity in fields like Medicine, Mechatronics, Space Engineering, Robotics etc., and may not be carried out in African countries due to the technical complexities associated with the academic courses 3. Other countries, on another hand, do not have the facilities as well as technical staff to carry out certain specialised researches.

3.5. The Increase of Publications in Engineering Departments between 2005 and 2015

From the 15 institutions of higher learning represented, there has been an increase of 44.4% in publications since 2005 (i.e. over the past ten years). World Bank 3 indicated that in engineering sciences, publications have increased by 8.5% Compound Annual Gross Research (CAGR), which is rather below expectation. However, with the advancement in technology, opening of new institutions of higher learning and the enabling environment, a greater number of publications are expected.

All SSA regions more than doubled their yearly research output for the period 2003-2012 3. And between 7.5% and 16% of the total outputs were amongst the world’s top 10% most highly cited articles, but only 5.9% -10% of the total output in the Physical Sciences and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) met that threshold 3.

3.6. Sectorial Funding Priorities in Engineering Sciences

The funders’ priorities for research in engineering sciences are ranked in Figure 1. Renewable energy related researches are receiving the highest priority followed by agriculture and food security. Health and life sciences were least prioritized at postdoctoral level. However, it was pointed out that health and life sciences attracted hugest collaboration grants.

The DFID research funding framework 2005-2007 prioritized four research themes: sustainable agriculture, killer diseases, states that do not work for the poor and climate change 5. However, African engineering sciences have their peculiar funding needs and priorities. Funding for collaborative research is top priority, while funding for internships is least prioritized, (Figure 2).

The funding needs of engineering sciences in Africa as a priority percentage for each academic/professional level are shown in Table 4.

Thus, from the results, more funding should be directed towards doctoral and undergraduate studies. It was also highlighted that with an increase in funding for doctoral studies, the capacity to generate more meaningful, adaptable and appropriate researches for Africa will be enhanced.

3.7. Funding Agents for Engineering Sciences in Africa

Basing on the experiences of the key informants, Table 5 shows the most active funding organisations supporting engineering sciences in Africa. From Table 5 the governments in sub-Saharan Africa are the major funders of undergraduate studies, while international funding organisations fund most of the postdoctoral research.

It can be noted that some of the programmes that have not been documented such as the Water and Sanitation Programme and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council promote best practice but do not have the necessary resources to finance or coordinate research 5. In sub-Saharan Africa, Waternet, Swiss Centre for Research, CIGAIR, and CYMMIT have lately provided much needed research funding support in water, sanitation, hygiene and agriculture.

3.8. Existing Funding Options for Postdoctoral Studies

Many African engineers have opted to do their postdoctoral studies in foreign countries especially the developed countries. The percentage preferences by geographical location are shown in Table 6. There are many reasons to such widespread options. Some of the reasons include availability of postdoctoral fellowships, advancement in technology, and personal preferences among other things.

Many African scientists have undertaken and or find more opportunities for postdoctoral studies most in Europe, America, Asia, UK, South Africa, Canada and least in Australia, respectively (UK was singled out of Europe because of its significant contribution) (Table 6). This could be because capacity building requires substantive and long-term investment, of which many developing countries cannot afford 5. Thus, from such findings, it can be inferred that if no proper funding mechanisms are available, Africa will take long to develop its own home grown solutions from engineering sciences due to the impacts of brain drain. Although efforts by many funding agencies to have postdoctoral fellows being attached to their African institutions, many fellows end up absorbed by their host institutions. Between 1960 and 1987, Africa lost a third of its professionals to the developed countries 7. An estimated 23,000 academics and 50,000 middle and senior management personnel leave the continent each year; and more than 40,000 Africans, each with a PhD now live outside the continent 8.

3.9. Africa’s Main Research Collaborating Partner Institutions

African institutions of higher learning have made partnerships with institutions from the developed world as a way of tapping into the expertise in those institutions. However, even among themselves, African universities and other research institutions have partnered. The notable examples of facilities in Africa for collaborative research and development are: African Laser Centre in South Africa, African Research Centre in Senegal, African Regional Centre for Engineering Design and Manufacturing in Nigeria and the African Institute for Higher Technical Training and Research in Kenya 4. These highly resources institutions could be used for furthering the capacity of African Engineers.

3.10. Collaborations and Partnership for engineering Sciences in Africa

If African research institutions can partner with institutions of higher learning they can gain access to greater resources and thus create lower cost technologies 9, 10. The different types of collaboration and partnerships within Africa and between Africa and the rest of the world are shown in Table 7.

3.11. Rating of Institutional Collaborations of Africa with Other Countries

None of the survey participants highlighted that collaborations are excellent. However, the majority (50%) of the participants concurred that institutional collaborations of Africans and other countries are “good”, 25% indicated that collaborations are “poor” while 12.5% said that collaborations are “very poor” and 12.5% indicated that collaborations are very good. Although the descriptors for rating the soundness (goodness) of collaborations by African institutions are subjective, the established ratings still act as a good yardstick to assess the soundness and existence of such collaborations.

3.12. Factors Affecting Access to Engineering Sciences Funding

African institutions of higher learning, on the other hand, fail to attract the much needed research funding for engineering sciences because of inherent institutional set-ups that do not promote attraction of research funding. Some of the challenges and factors are highlighted in Table 8.

Many of these factors and challenges tally well with the challenges about research capacity building in Nigeria as outlined by 6, the Minister of Science and Technology. He cites poor and inadequate infrastructure, lack of funding, lack of enabling environment and brain drain as hampering research capacity building. Furthermore 4 concur with the challenges outlined in Table 8 and indicate that some challenges are not only institutional but other donor countries or funding models employ “tied aid” where the professional capacity and equipment and materials are prescribe by the donor hence little or no skills transfer takes place.

3.13. Approaches and/ or Strategies that could be adopted by African Engineering Institutions to Attract More Funding

African research institutions can adopt several strategies and approaches that can aid them in attracting more funding. The strategies and approaches proposed are outlined in Table 9.

3.14. African Engineering Sciences Funding Expectations in Any Research Funding Agreement

African engineering sciences have many funding expectations. If these expectations are fully met, the demand for research funding will be enhanced and project sustainability will follow. The research funding agreement between the funding agency and the researcher/research institution plays a very important role in project sustainability. This paper discusses budgeting and collaboration clauses important from meaningful engagement as shown in Table 10.

3.15. Proposed Fellowship Duration

The fellowship duration in most of the time is determined by the funding organization. However, in some cases the funding body considers the activity plan of researchers that best fits the proposed project. It was opined that the minimum fellowship duration for engineering sciences should be one year and the maximum be five years. However, the Haldane Principle used in the UK stipulates that decisions on individual research proposals are best taken by researchers themselves through peer review 11. Shorter duration fellowships are perceived to be good only for networking and appreciation of the facilities held by the host institutions but less meaningful for in-depth research.

4. Conclusion

Despite the challenges faced by engineering sciences in Africa, there exists a huge potential for African engineers to attract research funding. There has been an increase in scientific publications by African Engineers, however, the growth of Engineering Sciences lags behind other disciplines. African research institutions should partner and collaborate with the developed world and among themselves in order to enhance research output. The institutions should also revise their institutional frameworks to accommodate research innovations and funding.

Acknowledgements

Participants to this study were drawn from Volkswagen Stiftung Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Selection Conference for Engineering Sciences. The contents of this study are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent official views of Volkswagen Stiftung Foundation.

References

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[5]  DFID, 2008, ‘Research Funding Framework 2005-2007’, DFID, London.
In article      
 
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[8]  World Bank, 2002, ‘Constructing knowledge societies. New challenges for tertiary education’, The World Bank Washington, D.C.
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Published with license by Science and Education Publishing, Copyright © 2017 Eugine Makaya

Creative CommonsThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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Normal Style
Eugine Makaya. Research Funding Needs for African Engineers: Challenges and Perceptions. American Journal of Educational Research. Vol. 5, No. 9, 2017, pp 933-938. http://pubs.sciepub.com/education/5/9/1
MLA Style
Makaya, Eugine. "Research Funding Needs for African Engineers: Challenges and Perceptions." American Journal of Educational Research 5.9 (2017): 933-938.
APA Style
Makaya, E. (2017). Research Funding Needs for African Engineers: Challenges and Perceptions. American Journal of Educational Research, 5(9), 933-938.
Chicago Style
Makaya, Eugine. "Research Funding Needs for African Engineers: Challenges and Perceptions." American Journal of Educational Research 5, no. 9 (2017): 933-938.
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[1]  Task Force on Higher Education and Society, 2000, ‘Higher education in developing countries: peril and promise’, Washington DC; World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/345111467989458740/Higher-education-in-developing-countries-peril-and-promise (Accessed 18/01/2016).
In article      View Article
 
[2]  NAE, 2005, ‘Engineering research and America’s future meeting the challenges of a global economy’, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
In article      View Article
 
[3]  World Bank, 2014, ‘A decade of development in sub-Saharan African science, technology, engineering and mathematics research’, Washington, DC: World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/237371468204551128/A-decade-of-development-in-sub-Saharan-African-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-research (Accessed 18/01/2016).
In article      View Article
 
[4]  Kotecha, P., Walwyn, D., & Pinto C., 2011, ‘Deepening Research Capacity and Collaboration across Universities in SADC’, A Southern African Universities Regional Research and Development Fund, May 2011.
In article      View Article
 
[5]  DFID, 2008, ‘Research Funding Framework 2005-2007’, DFID, London.
In article      
 
[6]  Isoun, T. T., 2015, ‘Building scientific capacity and expanding research opportunities through regional linkages in Africa: The federal government of Nigeria perspective’. Presented at a workshop on developing a new program to support regional networks for scientific research and training in sub-Sahara Africa. (https://sig.ias.edu/files/pdfs/Isoun.pdf Accessed 18/01/2016).
In article      View Article
 
[7]  Kapur, D., & Crowley M., 2008, ‘Beyond the ABCs: Higher Education and Developing Countries’. Centre for Global development, Working Paper Number 139.
In article      View Article
 
[8]  World Bank, 2002, ‘Constructing knowledge societies. New challenges for tertiary education’, The World Bank Washington, D.C.
In article      View Article
 
[9]  Free, M. J., 2004, ‘Achieving appropriate design and widespread use of health care technologies in the developing world. Overcoming obstacles that impede the adaptation and diffusion of priority technologies for primary health care’, International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Vol. 85, sup. I, pp. S3-SI3, June 2004.
In article      View Article
 
[10]  Malkin, R. A., & Anand, V., 2010, ‘A novel phototherapy device’. IEEE Engineering Medical Biology Magazine, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 37-43, Mar.-Apr. 2010.
In article      View Article  PubMed
 
[11]  DBIS, 2014, ‘The Allocation of Science and Research Funding 2015/16’, Investing world-class Science and Research, Department for Business Innovation and Skills (DBIS), UK, May 2014.
In article