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Pan-African collaborative avenues for strengthening African science

Latest developments from the collaboration between Future Africa (FA) and the International Science Council (ISC).

Bridging the Gap in African Science

Positive developments in African science

Longstanding efforts to build scientific capacity and develop African science systems are starting to yield positive outcomes. To illustrate this, Africa’s share of academic publication output has more than doubled from 1.5% in 2005 to 3.2% in 2016 and the citation impact of African-authored papers has been increasing steadily over the past 30 years from 0.48 in 1980 to 0.73% in 2014 [Source: African science: Better but still inadequate].

Furthermore, institution-building efforts such as the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) have been strengthened, and new multilateral funding partnerships have emerged, for example, the 20 collaborative research clusters of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (The Guild). Within the context of these recent developments, there is also growing recognition of the transformative potential of African science in shaping global science agendas and addressing global challenges.

This is partly reflected in the steady increase of African “hubs” of international initiatives on the continent, for example, the UN Regional Hub for Big Data for Africa in Rwanda, the African Open Science Platform (AOSP), and the African Future Earth Global Secretariat Hub, both hosted by the National Research Foundation (NRF) in South Africa.

Existing challenges in African science

Despite these positive developments, persistent challenges still exist across the broader African science ecosystem. A large share of scientific outputs from the continent is mostly noticeable in “islands of excellence”, namely South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, leaving the majority of the continent with weaker science systems [Source: Science output rising, but some countries’ yields still low]. Furthermore, despite the commitments of African governments to increase their gross domestic expenditure of R&D (GERD), most countries continue to spend less than 0.5% of their GDP on R&D, with the exception of a few countries in the Maghreb and South Africa, which spend 0.7 – 0.8% of GDP on R&D [Source: Research and development expenditure (% of GDP) – Sub-Saharan Africa].

As a result, the continent’s scientific communities continue to rely heavily on external funding. Whilst this has provided increased opportunities for African scientists to collaborate with their counterparts outside the continent, significant inequalities and asymmetries that tend to undermine the voice and visibility of African science have been recognized in these ‘North-South’ partnership arrangements.

Future Africa and ISC collaborative scoping and mapping project

The positive developments and persistent challenges in African science entail that it is imperative for the global science system to collaborate with the continent. As part of this process, Future Africa at the University of Pretoria and the International Science Council initiated a 2-year collaborative project to convene a consortium of partners to collaborate on leading a pan-African scoping and development process with the following objectives:

  • Review the current state of African sciences and science systems and the associated opportunities and challenges posed.
  • Explore collaborative avenues to accelerate African science system development, and enhance its voice, visibility, and influence in the global science arena.
  • Ascertain interest and commitment of African science system leadership to collaborate in pursuing next-level action to advance African science systems.
  • Explore the institutional presence, the complementary role, and support of the ISC and other international multilateral institutions in advancing African science.

Main Outcome

A report and proposal to the ISC Governing Board will be provided by January 2025, to coincide with the ISC’s General Assembly/. The report will suggest recommendations on collaborative avenues to accelerate the development of African science and enhance its voice, visibility, and influence in the global arena. The report is also expected to provide recommendations on the ISC’s future role and institutional presence in Africa, as well as an envisioned and feasible implementation pathway.

Future Africa’s Strategy for Impact

Since the launch of the collaborative project, Future Africa has facilitated the establishment of a Steering Committee to provide strategic guidance to the scoping and mapping exercise, as well as aFA-ISC team to implement the process.

Steering Committee Overview

  • Composed of a diverse group of 15 leading African scientists, policy experts, and representatives of key stakeholders in the African science ecosystem.
  • Chaired by an ISC Member responsible for communicating and reporting to the ISC Governing Board
  • Responsible for designing and overseeing the scoping and development process.
  • Meet virtually on a quarterly basis, with the possibility of holding at least one and possibly two in-person meetings during the period of their tenure

Members of the steering committee:

1. Daya Reddy, Acting-Vice Chancellor, University of Cape Town, South Africa (chair)
2. Oladoyin Odubanjo, Executive Director, Nigerian Academy of Sciences/INGSA, Nigeria
3. Lisa Korsten, President, African Academy of Sciences, South Africa
4. Christian Acemah, Executive Director, Uganda National Academy of Sciences, Uganda
5. Isabella Aboderin, Director, Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC), University of Bristol, UK
6. Nokuthula Mchunu, Deputy-Director, African Open Science Platform, South Africa
7. Mavoarilala Claudine Ramiarison Director de Research – Technical advisor and Project coordinator, Madagascar Ministère de l’Enseignement Superieur et de la Recherche Scientifique Madagascar
8. Dorothy Ngila, Director, Strategic Partnerships, National Research Foundation, South Africa
9. Jackie Kado, Executive Director, Network of African Academies, Kenya
10. Priscilla Kolibea Mante, Global Young Academy steering committee co-chair & Professor of Neuropharmacology, KNUST, Ghana
11. Ahmed Bawa, Professor, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Dedicated Team          
Since January 2023 Future Africa has established a dedicated FA-ISC Team led by a project coordinator, supported financially by the ISC. The FA-ISC team includes:

                   1. Heide Hackmann, Director, Future Africa
                   2. Farai Kapfudzaruwa, Research & Strategic Partnerships Manager, Future Africa
                   3. Jason Owens, Future Literacy Manager, Future Africa
                   4. Clarity Chagwiza, Senior Postdoctoral Fellow, Future Africa
                   5. Alison Meston, Communications Director, ISC

The FA-ISC team is currently engaging in the scoping and mapping exercise which includes:

  • Comprehensive stakeholder mapping exercise
  • Desk research
  • Open consultations – through surveys, interviews, and hybrid convenings across multiple sectors and regions
  • Communication, including reporting
  • Drafting of a fundraising prospectus and strategy

Future Africa’s value proposition

Value proposition to the ISC

  • Access to Future Africa networks, both pan-African and relevant global networks.
  • Knowledge of African science systems and access to key system decision-makers.
  • Office space and facilities, including meeting / collaborative venues at Future Africa.
  • Financial accountability.
  • Access to relevant capacities to support the collaborative project.

 Value proposition to the ISC African members

  • The possibility to expand their own pan-African and global networks, for example, through meetings with stakeholders on the continent.
  • To have influence in ISC development and strategy that is relevant to Africa.
  • To be part of the conceptualization of a global platform for African science.

A Call to Action: Your Involvement in African Science

How you can get involved:

Join the FA-ISC Team

Share your insights by 24 November: As part of this collaborative initiative, the project is conducting a consultative survey which we would like all stakeholders in the African science ecosystem to respond and share their insights. It will take you approximately 10-15 minutes to complete the survey. It’s critical to our meeting in December in South Africa on the margins of the South African Science Forum.

Stay informed

More updates on this project will be shared as we work together to shape the future of African science.

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