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Research & Development: An essential sector in Africa’s future development

Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. An injection of innovation, research, and development from Africa’s young academics will help those economies grow, thrive, and inspire the rest of the continent and the world. Let’s take a closer look.

Mar 6, 2018
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Research & Development: An essential sector in Africa’s future development

Africa is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world: Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola, the continent’s largest economies, are currently rebounding from the slowdown in 2016. While seven other countries, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania exhibit extreme economic resilience, with annual growth rates exceeding 5.4 percent between the years 2015 and 2017.

While the global economic outlook is improving, Africa needs to concentrate its focus on investment, to ensure that the recovery of its countries’ economies will be robust and healthy. One way to do that is through research and development, or R&D as it’s known colloquially.

Let’s take a closer look at the why’s and how’s of R&D in Africa, and how one university offers this opportunity.

Academic innovation leads to economic growth

For Africa to have a thriving, knowledge-based economy, the public and private sectors need to collaborate. Academics and industrialists will have to work together, to make decisions for the greater good and to build the economy.

A 2014 report from the UNISA Graduate School of Business Leadership in South Africa by Professor Angelo Nicolaides poses questions that innovators in Africa need to consider. Do the results of research in Africa support positive socioeconomic change for the people of Africa? Do innovations lead to the formulation of forward-thinking policies? Does research in Africa support the arts and local culture? Does quality of life for Africans improve as a result of current research and development?

Without academic innovation and a commitment to doing better, economic growth will fail. With innovation and a commitment to positive change, economies in Africa will grow and the people of the continent will prosper.

Africa needs bigger and more concentrated efforts in R&D

In April, the South African government announced that it wanted to increase the country’s R&D volume by 100 percent by 2020. Its desired areas of focus? Electricity, gas, water supply, communications, transportation, and storage.

Elina Christoforou, Doctoral Programmes Co-ordinator for multi-campus Unicaf University, says that the continent needs to do more.

She says, “African countries face many challenges, which hinder the growth of research and sustainable development. Postgraduate education remains underdeveloped, access to it is still limited and, as a result, contribution to research is equally small. In spite of the fact that 15 percent of the global population comes from Africa, the continent only contributes a mere 2 percent of the world’s scientific knowledge. African countries have significantly increased investments in science in the last few years, but most of them still invest less than 0.5 percent of their GDP in research.”

Young African academics and researchers have a big role to play

There are significant resources and incentives for young African academics and researchers to get involved in this effort. Christoforou cites two programmes from the EU and UNESCO, designed to help push Africa to the forefront of innovation, research, and development. This is what she has to say about the UNESCO programme: “Africa is also at the epicenter of UNESCO’s Education 2030: Incheon Declaration, which makes a specific reference to Africa and sets the following goal: ‘By 2020, (to) substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing states and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes.’”

She also cites the EU programme, discussed at the EU - Africa High-Level Policy Dialogue on Science, Technology, and Innovation. The Joint Africa-EU strategy she says, aims to develop a “partnership in three phases, from capacity building through research co-operation, to commercialization and utilization of research results.”

Unicaf University offers a unique opportunity

Christoforou explains what Unicaf University has to offer:

“Unicaf University provides a unique opportunity for eligible candidates in Africa to become involved with research, within the context of a Doctorate degree programme, supported by a generous UNICAF scholarship. Through online delivery, via the state-of-the-art UNICAF Virtual Learning Environment, and with the financial support of the UNICAF Scholarship Programme, Unicaf University contributes to the creation of a community of researchers from all parts of Africa, who have access to cutting-edge, scientific knowledge, and can provide, through their research, useful information and data for the design and implementation of beneficial policies for development and growth, especially in the less developed countries of the continent.”

How can young African researchers make a difference?

Africa needs future thought leaders to develop hubs of international research.

Christoforou says that many researchers from Africa are forced to move abroad, because they do not have opportunities for academic development in their own countries. Unicaf University offers eligible African candidates the opportunity “to study for a Doctorate degree from the comfort of their home, and to undertake innovative research projects, which focus almost entirely on topics of local interest.”

Bottom line? Young African researchers can now make significant contributions to research and development in Africa and the rest of the world with the help of the generous UNICAF Scholarship Programme and the Doctorate degrees offered by Unicaf University.