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  • African S&T institutions 'need focus and structure'

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[MBARARA, UGANDA] The developing world must come up with new institutional working practices and structures if science, technology and innovation (ST&I) are to thrive and produce socioeconomic growth.

This was the consensus of delegates at an ST&I symposium in Mbarara, Uganda last week (14–15 September).

Philip Aduma of Maseno University, Kenya, said there was a great need to refocus practices at universities and ST&I institutions in Africa and the rest of the developing world, to better meet the scientific needs of society.

"Most African countries consume products whose research and development have been done elsewhere, like the pharmaceutical products found in our chemists," Aduma told SciDev.Net. He said the majority of universities have no technology planning officers and scientific work was uncoordinated.

Aduma added that lack of research and development funding was one reason for this, but that institutions are also to blame for not establishing the right internal structures to generate knowledge, promote their activities or apply their knowledge to society's problems.

According to Roberts Muriisa of Uganda's Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) institutions should refocus to address local needs and use local knowledge.

"There is vast indigenous knowledge and researchers should link with the custodians of this knowledge for demand-driven research and technology," said Muriisa.

"We need to integrate indigenous knowledge. At the moment this is not being done at our universities and we should develop interactive modules to facilitate this," he added.

Fredrick Kayanja, vice chancellor of MUST said universities must engage with society through community outreach programmes. He urged them to put students on community placements where they can interact with local people.

Some delegates also accused those in charge of the institutions of abusing their authority, refusing to listen to the views of researchers and refusing to fund relevant projects.

"We have to be a lot more serious at individual level," said Henry Bukwirwa of Uganda's Kampala International University. "It is very frustrating to researchers for those holding offices at research institutions to deny them the opportunity and funds to advance their work [without good reason]."

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