Young scientists neglected in Africa


Young scientists in Africa, widely recognised as being among the most creative and energetic researchers, must receive better financial support from their governments if they are to establish themselves in their fields and if Africa’s higher education capacity is to increase.

This was according to some of Africa’s top young scientists at a recent gathering. They added that networking opportunities, quality of teaching and the range of doctorate subjects offered by institutions are other areas that must be improved.

The Global Young Academy, the voice of young scientists around the world, in a report “The Global State of Young Scientists: Project report and recommendations”, agrees and blamed lack of resources; and training and funding opportunities as the most cited obstacles facing young scientists in the developing world.

Irene Friesenhahn, co-author of the report, says they found that researchers in the developing world lack resources on several fronts, including research grants and training opportunities.

Sharing same views, Naa Lamle Amissah, a lecturer in the University of Ghana’s crop science department, says, “Young African scientists do not have access to funding, which affects the quality of research on the continent.”

Lack of data is also one reason why young scientists are being neglected in Africa.

Sameh Soror, a biochemist at Helwan University in Cairo, Egypt, tells SciDev.Net, a science newswire, that “data on the status of young researchers in developing countries almost does not exist, and we will not be able to plan our future unless we have a clear view of our present”.

Because of this and other reasons, young scientists in Africa are missing out on vital skills. More so, the adoption of technologies and knowledge-based approaches that address many pressing global sustainability issues is blocked by a lack of public trust, which is not helped by poor communication.

Consequently, Irene Friesenhahn and Catherine Beaudry, authors of the Global State of Young Scientists, say they hope that providing a “snapshot of what is known and not known about young scholars around the world” will help decision-makers identify “where to focus their energies, and how best to direct limited resources to supporting young researchers and the innovation system of which they are a part”.

Thus, there is the urgent need to improve connections between scientists and society. This includes science education, policy engagement and communication with society at large – sharing information, listening and responding to concerns facing communities in which scientists work.

Established scientists, scholars and policy decision makers in Africa also need to ensure academic freedom. They should encourage research institutions to learn from the best practices in other regions. This means development of leadership skills for young scientists should be much higher on the agenda of universities and science development agencies.

Moreover, there should be programmes that focus on societal leadership at the business and management departments of research institutions and universities in countries within and across Africa.

The sure way to nurture young scientists in Africa is the establishment of national, regional and continental academies of young scientists. The purpose should be to support and develop young scientists, promoting their national and international mobility, competitiveness, and leadership potential.

Science in resource-poor regions urgently needs to link more effectively to global scientific networks – to accelerate scientific output, impact and capacity development – so researchers can meet their countries’ needs through locally produced knowledge.

Therefore, Eduardo Samo Gudo, head of department at the National Health Institute, Mozambique urges African governments to follow examples of other countries where substantial state investment has seen a large increase in institutions.

Gudo says, “African governments must follow the example of countries such as Brazil, China and India, where substantial state investment has seen a large increase in institutions and qualified scientists. They must also create an attractive environment for science professors if the quality of teaching is to improve. This means providing small research allowances, tax benefits and well-paid short-term consultancies – as well as engaging with the diaspora to achieve this goal.”

Lastly, training of young scientists needs to be focused. In most African countries, training of young scientists often leaves them poorly equipped for the duties and responsibilities once they reach a permanent position. There is, therefore, a need for aligning young scientists’ skills with the responsibilities and diversified tasks on the next level and helping them to acquire knowledge, techniques and procedures that help them to be globally competitive and participate meaningfully.

Since Africa is a resource endowed continent, it must eventually become sustainable in terms of funding, which will only be possible when governments prioritise higher education.

Verily, any government that neglects its young scientists is going to run into problems later on.

March 2014
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