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Africa, A Continent Of Successes And Challenges For PhD Students

As more Africans are pursuing Doctorate degrees, their contribution to the development of the continent is proving to be invaluable. While there’s little doubt that the African continent needs more PhDs, there’s a lot of debate about how to accomplish this. Let's take a look at the developments.

Oct 3, 2018
  • Education
Africa, A Continent Of Successes And Challenges For PhD Students

As more Africans are pursuing Doctorate degrees, their contribution to the development of the continent is proving to be invaluable.

In fact, the need for more Africans undertaking scientific research has led the University of Cambridge to build partnerships and create new opportunities. Professor David Dunne, the Director of the Cambridge-Africa Programme, which has been building partnerships between Cambridge and Africa for the past eight years, explains, “Africa needs a million new PhD researchers over the next decade. There are world-class academics in Africa, but not enough to train and mentor all the young researchers that Africa needs to maintain and accelerate its progress. This is where Cambridge and other leading international universities can help, by making expertise and facilities available, to help bridge this mentorship gap.”

While there’s little doubt that the African continent needs more PhDs, there’s a lot of debate about how to accomplish this. A recent report, published in June 2018, entitled Building PhD Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa, was produced by the British Council and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), in cooperation with the African Network for Internationalization of Education and University College London Institute of Education. The report contains six recommendations on ways to increase accessibility to Doctorate degrees in Africa.

First, it cautions that PhD programmes must not suffer in quality in the name of rapid expansion, but need to be of high-quality, which requires more time.

Secondly, the report recommends that higher education systems must “seek a balance between concentration and diffusion” of PhD programmes. In short, how deeply the programmes delve into their research topic, and to what extent their findings can be useful.

The report also encourages PhD programmes in Africa to aim for a “broad disciplinary spread” in studies, bringing together “universities, communities, industry, and government” in close collaboration.

It also calls for “more extensive and more reliable data” to “inform policy-making around PhD provision.”

Finally, the report advocates international partnerships, which can play a “pivotal role” in strengthening Africa’s ability to offer high-quality Doctorate degrees.

What does this mean? It means that Africa is on the cusp of creating, offering, and promoting high-quality PhD programmes not just for its own people, but for the whole world.

Through scientific research, African PhD candidates can search for effective solutions to major challenges facing the continent.

It’s quite important for PhD students in Africa to research topics and areas that connect directly to the country or the region they come from. Students see their success as their country’s success. Dr. Vassias Vassiliades, Director of Academic Affairs at UNICAF, explains the research preferences of African students choosing to do their PhDs with Unicaf University. He says: “They mainly focus on existing research gaps and on a variety of research challenges that refer exclusively to Africa and are of high priority. Unicaf University students are mostly interested in researching the Business, Management, Education and, on a smaller scale, Public Health sectors.”

He adds, “Our PhD candidates’ research topics focus on the development and sustainability of the business sector in their countries, and, more particularly, on SMEs, Entrepreneurship, Corporate Social Responsibility and so on. There are also topics in Education, such as Leadership in African educational contexts, ICT and new technologies in Education, the teaching of English as a foreign language in African schools, etc. Also popular are research topics on cyber security, the eradication of poverty, anti-corruption laws etc.”

Dr. Vassiliades further explains that African students often choose to do their PhD research within the organization where they are employed. He says, “Unicaf University doctoral candidates come from a diverse professional and educational background. There are candidates who work for the central or local government in their country, NGO employees, as well as candidates employed in the private sector, who are working in private banks, organizations or companies. Candidates are usually, but not exclusively, interested to conduct research in the organization they work for, aiming to produce research outcomes that make an original contribution and bring about an improvement for their employer.”

Research is already on the increase in some African countries

While levels of investment into research vary widely across the continent, some African countries invest more than others. Dr. Vassiliades explains, “Unarguably some countries, such as South Africa, lead the way in this respect. For example, studies show that Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are the top five African countries engaged in research activities. As a matter of fact, in 2012 South Africa had the highest national budget for research and development in Africa, followed by Egypt.”

The UNICAF Director of Academic Affairs argues that Africa needs to do more to meet the increasing demand for Doctorate programmes. A mere one percent of the global investment in research and development goes to Africa, and the continent is home to just 0.1 percent of the world’s patents. According to the World Economic Forum, there are only 198 researchers per one million people, compared to 428 in Chile, and over 4,000 in the UK and the US. To reach international per capita standards, Africa needs an additional million Doctorate degree holders. And even though some African countries are beginning to see the importance of investing in scientific research, the World Economic Forum calls for more funding, not just from foreign investors, but also from the continent itself.

One of Africa’s biggest initiatives, the Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI), aims to build a highly coordinated, well-funded, innovative R&D community in the African continent, in order to overcome the fragmentation of resources.

The World Economic Forum cites Kenya as a prime example in the establishment of an innovation-driven economy. Kenya has developed a comprehensive policy strategy by establishing a Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The country has climbed from the 99th to the 85th place in the Global Innovation Index and has almost reached its goal of one percent GDP expenditure on research and development, aiming to increase it to two percent.

The goal? To increase dramatically the number of Doctorate degree holders in Africa, who can then serve as mentors and instructors of future PhD candidates.

Dr. Vassiliades says, “The drive to populate Higher Education institutions with PhD degree holders is a very important and positive step for the advancement of higher education in Africa. Unicaf University is proud to be in a position to contribute to this, by enhancing the academia sector with more Doctorate degree graduates.”

How Unicaf University helps African graduate students

Unicaf University, a pan-African, independent, internationally recognized university, combines the best elements of international education and offers high-quality PhD degree programmes. Dr. Vassiliades says, “Our long-term aim is to gradually build a network of capable researchers, who will make scientific collaborations and exchange important knowledge throughout Africa.”

Unicaf University offers campuses and learning centers in Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, and Somalia. They also encourage research transfers. Dr. Vassiliades explains, “Such schemes can take the form of Public Private Partnerships (PPP), in the case of research emanating from public institutions, or of spin-off companies, formed to promote products and services derived from Africa-based scientific research.”

As Africa works to encourage more Africans to earn their PhDs, Unicaf University plays a central role in increasing access to quality PhD education across the continent.

Learn more about earning your PhD at Unicaf University.