Africa generates less than 1% of the world’s research; data analytics can change that

An in-depth analysis of the continent’s research reveals promising developments – and strategies for continued improvement

Meeting with Pioneer International University leaders to discuss their strategic objectives for the year 2017: Vice-Chancellor Dr. Gideon Maina JK and his team; Sherif Ghazy, Sales Manager Africa; Karen Metcalf, e-Book Director; and Mohamed Khairy, Sales Manager eBooks.

How can you tell the story of African research?

Ideally you would start with credible data and a thorough analysis. Then you could begin to paint a picture of how Africa is building its research capabilities to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing any territory.

On the surface, you would see that despite comprising 12.5 percent of the world’s population, Africa still accounts for less than 1 percent of global research output.

But that’s just the beginning of the story.

When we analyzed data using Elsevier’s SciVal tool, which measures the research performance of 8,500 research institutions and 220 nations worldwide, a more detailed picture of Africa’s research emerged. Compared to other regions, Africa has by far the strongest growing scientific production: 38.6 percent over a 5-year period from the start of 2012 to the end of 2016. The number of authors is growing at an equally astounding rate of 43 percent over that period. This is 10 percent higher than the next fastest growing author population in the world – that of the Middle East – at 33 percent during the same period.

As far as impact is concerned (as measured by Field Weighted Citation Impact, which normalizes differences in citation activity by subject field, article type and publication year), Mozambique, Rwanda and Zambia more than double the world average citation impact. The bulk of Africa’s scientific production originates from Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia.

The successes continue across the continent. Senegal has implemented a strategy to provide world-class resources to their researchers to support their day-to-day work and eliminate struggles they might face. Meanwhile SciVal reveals that Ethiopia could increase research output by around 28 percent in one year. And South Africa is the highest research output producing country in Africa, holding two positions in the top 200 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Scientists and policymakers convene in Cairo

Meeting with United States International University in Kenya to understand their needs and challenges. Dr. Sylvia Ogola, Library Director and her Library Managerial team pictured with Elsevier staff (left to right): Sherif Ghazy. Sales Manager Africa; Mohamed Amir, Sales Manager Research Management; Mohamed Khairy, Sales Manager, e-Books

African scientists and policymakers want to capitalize on these successes. Many of them gathered at the recent Third African Forum for Science, Technology and Innovation in Cairo, organized by the African Development Bank and the Egyptian government. The event is also supported by the Republic of South Korea, Japan and partners including Elsevier. There, they urged representatives from countries across the continent to invest more in research, higher education and science; to build a knowledge economy; and not to miss the train of the new industrial revolution.

Meeting with leaders from Moi University - Kenya to discuss possible partnership development with Elsevier (left to right): Prof. Laban Ayoro, Vice Chancellor; Prof. Ambrose Kiprop, Africa Centre of Excellence Director; Prof. Charles Lagat, International Relations Director; and Sherif Ghazy, Sales Manager Africa.

The forum also addressed issues affecting scientific research in Africa. The continent faces significant challenges around food security, climate change, infrastructure development, poverty, energy, water sanitation, life expectancy, communicable/non-communicable disease management, and HIV/AIDS. Despite the growth certain countries are experiencing, members of the research community still lack access to the tools and skills that would help them tackle those challenges. There are limited funding mechanisms and a lack of viable ways to disseminate research in the global community.

Using information analytics to guide decision-making

Marc Chahin, Executive Publisher at Elsevier, gives an author workshop at Egerton University-Kenya – one of many Elsevier is organizing in Africa to boost the outcomes of African researchers.

As one of the organizing partners, Elsevier is committed to supporting efforts to tackle those challenges by providing credible data and tools to identify research gaps and support the development of strategies to progress science and improve society.

For example, the Elsevier Foundation’s Research without Borders volunteer capacity-building program partners with the National Institute of Health and the National Library of Medicine to support the African Journal Partnership Program. In 2017, more than 20 Elsevier publishers worked with African health journals in nine countries, contributing a total of 48 weeks of Elsevier time to boost the visibility and impact of the continent’s journals. In addition, we support the MSF/Epicentre’s Niger Research Center with $100,000 a year to develop an African driven health research center to help find African solutions for the biggest health crises facing the region.

The Elsevier Foundation also partners with the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) to support emerging women leaders in science and technology each year with awards for women scientists in the developing world. This year’s winner from Africa, Dr. Germaine Djuidje-Kenmoe, an Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon, exemplifies the strong focus women scientists in developing countries often have on topics related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. She is working to reduce the amount of friction on the surfaces of materials to save energy.

The gains these researchers are driving will be accelerated by using information analytics to provide evidence that will guide decision-making to overcome challenges facing African research. Our recent Gender in the Global Research Landscape report provides an evidence-based examination of research performance worldwide through a gender lens. It has led to discussions with researchers and policymakers across Africa. Already we have seen suggestions around specific funds for transitory early career female scientists to leverage high impact associated with transitory researchers. We hear personal stories from researchers. In an Elsevier Connect story last year,  Dr. Rania Mokthar of Sudan mentioned the prevalence of bias, saying that many male co-workers don’t take their female colleagues seriously — and surprisingly some of them are well-educated men. Data provides the evidence base to support these examples, and organizations such as OWSD can use these reports to inform their mission to prevent research talent from migrating away,and build a research culture in Africa.

Information analytics can make a difference at an institutional level. Covenant University in Nigeria uses SciVal to analyze and visualize the university’s performance in the global research landscape. Over the past 10 years, the university has drastically increased its research output, and today it ranks fourth in Nigeria in terms of articles published per year. Prof. Aderemi Aaron-Anthony Atayero, Vice-Chancellor of the university, was there from the start. He credits their success to smart investments in the right areas, based on data analytics.

“The university was founded to tackle some of the issues the higher education landscape was facing at the time,” he said. “High school graduates were confronted with a shortage of placement opportunities in universities, while at the same time, corruption was affecting the quality of the education for those who did secure a position.”

At a policymaker and government level, countries are using data and analytics to achieve their research goals. Egypt has formulated a national ranking committee supported by the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, while the Egyptian Knowledge Bank is an investment by the government to give the scientific community the tools, content and capacity building programs to build a knowledge-based economy.

Elsevier was one of the first partners in this national project, and the results have been outstanding. Since 2017, the citation impact of Egyptian institutions has for the first time exceeded the world average (by 3 percent as shown in Elsevier’s research management analysis tool SciVal), indicating that with the right resources and environment, scientists will innovate and excel. The investment also enhanced the global reach of the country: the percentage of international collaboration in Egypt rose above 50 percent for the first time in 2017. That meant more than half of the research output of Egyptian researchers had at least another co-author from another country demonstrating increased visibility with potential to attract funding, and strengthening relationships with other countries.

To address many of the burning issues facing Africa (sustainable and economic development) requires pronounced investment in people, systems and research infrastructure. With the right data, policymakers across the continent will be able to make data driven investments that build a bright future for people across the region.

Elsevier colleagues at the International Conference on Pure and Applied Chemistry (ICPAC) – Mauritius, for which Elsevier was a Golden sponsor (left to right): Samer Gamal, Sales Manager Africa; Piotr Gołkiewicz, Sales Manager Life Science Solutions; and researchers from Africa attending.

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