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  • Africa needs 'autonomous, collaborative universities'

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Leading scientists from Africa have called for the continent's universities to increase collaboration and become more independent from national governments.

Speaking last week (22 March) in Nairobi, Kenya, at a meeting on infectious diseases, Gabriel Ogunmola, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, said African universities were acting alone but that no single institution had what was needed to undertake cutting-edge science.

"Collaborative efforts will help build the capacity and the infrastructure required for scientific research," said Ogunmola. "Universities must group together to carry out multidisciplinary research."

John Kilama, president of the US-based Global Bioscience Development Institute, underlined the need for African universities to be more autonomous from the local political establishments.

He said that conflicts of interest were created because many universities have heads of state and their associates as vice-chancellors or in other senior positions.

Kilama added that since African nations gained their independence there had been little change to the academic structure of universities, and that this was a barrier to collaborative research both between African universities and between universities in Africa and those in other parts of the world. Reform of university management was needed to promote such collaboration, he said.

Onesmo ole-MoiYoi, director of research and partnerships at the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, agreed, adding a lack of leadership was partly responsible for the isolation of African universities.

Policymakers judge things differently from scientists, making it a difficult task for them to put in place structures that encourage scientific growth within universities, said ole-MoiYoi. "The continent needs collaborations and the leadership must be told so."

Ole-MoiYoi said that while it might be necessary to seek donor funding for science development in Africa, capacity building must begin on the continent itself, through collaborative research, linkages and new leadership of autonomous institutions.

The Nairobi meeting, 'Cracking Africa's killer diseases', was organised by the Africa Genome Initiative.

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