French Academy delivers 365-page plea for more R&D in Africa
As an indication of its slipping status in the science stakes, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for less than 1% of scientific publications produced each year. France’s Académie des Sciences has published a 365-page report which seeks ways of addressing this precarious situation in Africa, as well as other parts of the developing world.
One in every ten humans lives in sub-Saharan Africa. However, faced with grinding poverty, the fallout of economic liberalisation, a heavy disease burden and conflict, the pursuit of knowledge has lost out to the daily struggle for subsistence. The 1990s was a particular bad time, with research budgets being slashed across the region, the Académie des Sciences report describes.
|Research is an important component of development, but it is a luxury that many developing countries can barely afford.|
© FAO photo
Today, the 20% of researchers who are still active carry out most of their research outside the walls of academia and traditional research bodies, usually for international organisations, foreign intergovernmental bodies and NGOs. This has led to a breakdown in the research profession in the region and has engendered new values – often of dependency – among researchers there.
This was not always the case. “After independence, governments expected a lot, in utilitarian terms, from research and education,” the report explains. In the 1970s, research institutes were nationalised, researchers and teachers were ‘Africanised’, while the concept of R&D was institutionalised. These changes led to enhancements in sub-Saharan Africa’s position. In 1985, for instance, the region represented 1.5% of scientific publications in the world, compared with only 0.7% today.
But the seeds for the downturn, which commenced in earnest in the 1990s, were planted in the early 1980s, with the advent of economic liberalisation and deregulation, when state intervention in education and research began to decline.
Prescriptions for change
The third part of the Académie report outlines the conditions necessary for a revival in R&D, which is an important component of development. The document stresses that, in addition to questions of solidarity, it would be in France’s interests to boost scientific co-operation with sub-Saharan Africa.
In a special annex, the authors put forward suggestions grouped under two main headings: general recommendations and specific recommendations. At the general level, they recommend that scientific co-operation with developing countries needs to be recognised as a priority of French research policy. They propose the creation of a national (France) agency or committee for research in developing countries.
The specific recommendations revolve around efforts to promote ‘education for all’ and to shore up the higher education system in developing countries.
For its part, the European Union recognises the importance of promoting closer research collaboration with developing countries. The international co-operation aspect of the Framework Programmes for Research is also aimed at this goal. In addition, researchers and research bodies from the developing world can often participate in European research consortia.
The Académie des Sciences full report (in French)Académie des Sciences