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[NOTTINGHAM] This was a question posed to the audience at the Science in Public Conference 2013 by Natewinde Sawadogo, researcher at the University of Nottingham, which hosted the meeting this week (22-23 July).
Analysing foreign aid to science in Africa, he identified three models of international efforts to strengthen science. The development assistance model that started in the 1940s gave way to development cooperation model in the late 1970s — but what these lacked, he said, was a way of ensuring that local researchers benefit and improve their ability to do research themselves.
Development cooperation funds, for example, saw "many experts travelling across Africa and the developing world, but nothing was happening".
Foreign experts came to Africa to set up a project or solve a specific problem, but because they worked outside the national framework of science, such as environment ministries, they therefore left little knowledge or skills behind.
The failures of these first two models has resulted in the most recent model: 'capacity building' in science.
This new model will require a coordinated international effort to channel funding effectively, he said, and the most obvious agency to do so would be UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Yet what we have seen in recent years has been a growing criticism and calls for the agency's reform by Western governments, he added.
"The technical has met the political," he said. For example, if funds went through UNESCO, they would then also go to Palestine, or Iran, which some Western governments are reluctant to support, he added.
This has resulted in a renewed fragmentation of science aid efforts, proliferation of separate models, bilateral initiatives and a general lack of international coordination of efforts to boost science capacity in developing nations.
What this means for Africa is that African researchers lack institutional support when negotiating research funding from for capacity-building efforts. Science policy there has still not trickled down to universities, leaving scholars without institutional support for drawing on international funds and researchers without the expertise or skills needed.
So, Sawadogo's pessimistic view is that efforts to build capacity in science may go the same way that development assistance or cooperation efforts went: failing to ensure sustained development.