Africa’s science research output doubles in a decade

Researcher in a lab
Copyright: Sven Torfinn / Panos

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  • Researchers reviewed STEM research publications in a database for 2003-2012
  • Health sciences alone account for 45 per cent of Africa’s research output
  • An expert says the Sub-Sahara Africa needs increased funding in STEM research

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[NAIROBI]  Three regions in Sub-Saharan Africa almost doubled their combined share of global research output, but the increase is still low, says a new World Bank report.

Researchers from the Work Bank and Elsevier analysed science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research published in Scopus, an abstract and citation database that covers more than 21,000 journals, for the period 2003 to 2012. They identified research outputs in regions such as West and Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa.

“Africa has made progress in research output and quality in recent years, but much more will need to be done to increase STEM research capacity on the continent.”

Andreas Blom, World Bank

According to the report, which was releases last month (30 September), the three regions, excluding South Africa, increased their share of global research output from 0.44 per cent in 2003 to 0.72 per cent in 2012.

Andreas Blom, a co-author of the report and education economist at the World Bank, tells SciDev.Net: “Africa has made progress in research output and quality in recent years, but much more will need to be done to increase STEM research capacity on the continent, given its many fast-growing economies and serious development challenges”.

Blom notes that the growth of Africa’s research has largely been driven by advances in the research capacity of health sciences =- over 45 per cent of all research.

The report identifies lack of policies to increase the quality and quantity of teaching of STEM at all levels of the educational system, including for research and education.

 “Besides collaboration, the critical first step is to improve training capacity through the creation of high calibre faculty,” says Mariam Nusrat Adil, a co-author and an economist with the World Bank education global practice. “Next, governments and their international partners must increase funding at the master’s and doctoral levels, with a strong focus on STEM. We must also ensure girls receive more STEM degrees and excel in the focus areas.”

Ylann Schemm, the director of New Scholars and Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries Programs of the Elsevier Foundations, says the majority of her outfit’s grants since 2006 have gone to STEM library projects in Africa to help provide training to boost overall usage of research for life resources.

“Many of our training grants directly support information literacy and usage and promote African research and evidence-based healthcare,” Schemm says.

Richard Odingo, a geography professor at the University of Nairobi, says the World Bank report reflects the research trends on the continent, adding that there is urgent need to increase funding to science education and research.

“Also lacking is the political goodwill for science in Africa. Scientists need to be more urgently involved in the political management of the countries to be able to influence scientific policies at the political level,” Odingo adds. “This can be achieved through, for example, creating a position in the bureaucracy of a science advisor to the president.”

Link to World Bank report

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.