Karrine Sanders, the programme manager of Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA) of the United Kingdom-headquartered Association of Commonwealth Universities, there is a growing concern that although billions of dollars are invested in university research, much of it is not applied into policymaking.
“People are asking about what more universities can do to influence policy,”Sanders told a symposium on higher education in Uganda last month (16 March) that looked at ways of scaling up evidence-based university research for policymaking and practice.“Policymakers are asking what they can do with research from universities to support policy and to benefit end users.”
“People are asking about what more universities can do to influence policy. Policymakers are asking what they can do with research from universities to support policy and to benefit end users.”
Karrine Sanders, Development Research Uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa (DRUSSA)
Augustine Omare-Okurut, the secretary-general of the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO, said African universities may have not effectively contributed to policymaking either due to the production of low quality research or because policymakers are not making good use of research from universities.
According to Omare-Okurut, there should be university policies that promote the use of good research to get into the public domain, adding: “It should be a triangle of policymakers, researchers and implementers, which must keep flowing.”
Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) and the Uganda National Council on Science and Technology (UNCST) convened the symposium with support from DRUSSA, a programme that aims to support 24 universities in 14 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
“It is vital to start this conversation. We have policymakers who do not seem to have grasped how to infuse research into policy. Now we can explore avenues for this to be done,” said UNCST assistant executive secretary Ismail Barugahara.
John Opuda-Asibo, the executive director of Uganda National Council for Higher Education, said that although universities conduct research, they do not answer questions that address knowledge gaps or influence policy.
“The way it would work is for all government agencies to have a policy analyst desk to beg questions from government, industry and the private sector,” according to Opuda-Asibo. “The universities would then carry out research that answers these questions to provide evidence-based solutions.”
On the concerns about research not getting into policy, Makerere University’s director of quality assurance Vincent Ssembatya, said: “One of the ways to change this perception is to strengthen research and tap into government and industry questions. But they should ask the right questions.”
DRUSSA is financially supporting Annabella Habinka, a computer scientist based at Uganda’s education ministry. “We are trying to understand the key issues and the government order of priorities by looking at the evidence and the exact research that is needed. Through this process, we will get clear topics that will go out to universities and advise government on what can be implemented and how,” Habinka said.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.