[TURIN, ITALY] Africa needs more global science partnerships and a new generation of scientists trained to solve the continent's pressing problem of sustainable development, according to Mohamed Hassan, executive director of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).
The continent needs to set up inter-disciplinary centres of excellence in areas of science and technology critical to its economic growth and sustainable development, Hassan said in a keynote address at the fourth EuroScience Open Forum, in Turin, yesterday (6 July).
These areas include biotechnology and its applications in agriculture and medicine, information and communication technologies, nanoscience, and the use of space technologies for exploring natural resources and monitoring the environment.
Centres of excellence could promote regional and international collaboration. They could also become innovation hubs that offer affordable technologies to help meet the continent's pressing needs, such as safe drinking water and renewable energy sources, Hassan said.
His main concern is the widening scientific 'knowledge gap' between Africa and the rest of the world. Africa contributes only 0.01 per cent of the world's share of international science publications in science and engineering and very few come from Sub-Saharan Africa, he said.
Other causes of concern include the high rates of brain drain because of poor working conditions and research infrastructure, unfulfilled promises of donor aid, and declining investment in science by national governments.
The centres of excellence could also help boost the capacities of African scientists and of science teachers, whose training should include basic science but also innovative teaching methods that promote independent investigation and problem-solving skills.
Africa needs urgently to revitalise its school and university education systems to develop a pool of skilled scientists in partnership with European universities, said Hassan.
"Each country deserves a top-class research university," he said. But to do this they need to connect research and education systems, set high standards for science education, and attract the best students to science.
He also suggested setting up science academies that foster scientific excellence. Africa accounts for just 17 out of 107 science academies worldwide, although seven of them have been set up recently.
Earlier in the week (3 July), Lidia Brito — director for science policy at UNESCO and the former science minister of Mozambique — told a session on advancing science in developing countries that European scientists need to "research for Africa and with Africa, and not just about Africa".