Monday, May 6, 2013

“African researchers are active consumers of content but inactive contributors”

In late March 2013, I took part in a workshop on National Digital Repository Framework organized by the Association of African Universities (AAU) in Accra. Participants, mainly from universities, discussed setting up national digital repositories of theses and dissertations, as part of AAU’s Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD) initiative. A comment made by one presenter, that “African researches are active consumers of content but inactive contributors”, attracted my attention. I decided to give it a thought and I am afraid I have to say that he was largely right.

Most public research organizations and universities on the continent cannot afford to subscribe to scholarly publications without donor funding. For most of these institutions, they last paid for journal subscriptions using institutional budgets in the late 1980s and in 1990s. Since then, they largely depend on the good will of the international community to sustain their research and academic information needs.

At the click of a computer mouse button, thanks to modern information and communication technology (ICTs), today researchers, faculty members and students in Africa have access to thousands of journal titles, books and other information materials in digital format. This is possible due to several initiatives including the Research4Life Programme, the Programme for Enhancement of Research Information (PERI) and open access initiatives such BioMed Central. Availability of easy and around the clock access to these digital resources puts researchers, faculty staff and students on the continent at par with their colleagues in the developed world in as far as access to the latest research is concerned. However, how much of the research generated in Africa is accessible to the outside world?

Data available from the 2010 Thomson Reuters’s Global Research Report: Africa shows that from the years 1999 to 2008, on average Africa produced about 27,000 scientific papers per year, about the same volume as that of The Netherlands. Furthermore, Africa’s research scene, in terms of published outputs, is dominated by three countries – Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa. 

What then, are our researchers doing? 

Africa, as indicated by the BBC, has the potential to play a big role in the global science. However, there is little government-funding going into research. For example, in 2006, the African Union’s Executive Council endorsed that by 2010 governments in Africa should spend at least 1% of the GDP on research and development. How many countries have met this target?

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