Embedding Research Excellence: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa
Governments and regional bodies across Sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly eager to support science. Regional and national policy documents and programmes reflect this enthusiasm and ambition and commitments to more resource for science, research and innovation (SRI). This is matched by rising levels of financial support from funders outside the region looking for new ways to support research that conform to Sub-Saharan African aspirations and needs.
Behind this consensus about the need to support SRI however lays some stark differences about the criteria that should be used to evaluate the contributions of science. In this talk I will reflect on recent research and focus on the complex array of expectations about what science can and should deliver. National, regional and international funders adopt a variety of sometimes ambiguous rationales about the pathways through which these contributions from science funding are delivered, with distinctions between ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ science failing to provide significant clarity. On the one hand there is a desire for excellent research as sanctioned by academics acting with high degrees of autonomy and, on the other, for science that is deeply embedded in local social and policy realities and whose success or failure requires input and evaluation by a much broader array of stakeholders.
These aims are not impossible to resolve, but reconciliation is far from straightforward and significant policy and communication rifts make it difficult to achieve. The talk identified a number of relatively straightforward ways in which the process of supporting science can be improved and enhanced so that science contributes to multiple agendas. However, it also highlighted more fundamental challenges which confront science funders across the globe related to the ways in which support for research is framed and provided.