Research in the Developing World

Investing in STEM research is crucial to Africa’s future, finds World Bank/Elsevier report

Study assesses the state of sub-Saharan Africa’s research enterprise and analyzes areas for further improvement

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Strategic investments in science and technology are crucial to meet Africa's ambitious economic development goals. To determine where to make such investments and what the returns of those investments would be, we need to measure and track the subcontinent's research enterprise. The report is intended to assess the current state of sub-Saharan Africa's research enterprise and help governments and development partners accelerate support for research and research-based education in Africa.

A new report by the World Bank and Elsevier analyzes four major developments in sub-Saharan research over the past decade, drawing primarily on data from Scopus, the world's largest abstract and citation database.

Dr. Andreas Blom, one of the report's authors and Lead Education Economist at the World Bank, explained: "The report presents an analytical foundation for strengthening science education and research, and offers more information on how to build research capacity that is aligned with the region's needs."

Highlights of the report

In spite of the subcontinent's progress in research, countries with comparable levels of research output in 2003, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, have grown even faster over the same period of time.

Publication output over time for sub-Saharan Africa regions and comparator countries, 2003-2012 (Source: Scopus)

Percentage of article output in the Physical Sciences and STEM vs. the Health Sciences for sub-Saharan Africa regions  and comparator countries, 2012 (Source: Scopus)

The growth of Africa's research has largely been driven by advances in the research capacity of the health sciences, which account for over 45 percent of all research in Africa. However, this means that a lower amount of investment can be apportioned to areas such as physical sciences and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Field-weighted citation impact versus world article share for sub-Saharan Africa regions and comparator countries, 2003-2012 (Source: Scopus)

Percentage of article output resulting from international collaborations for sub-Saharan Africa regions, 2012 (Source: Scopus)Sub-Saharan Africa has been very successful in increasing both its research output and citation impact. As the graphic above shows, regions such as Southern and East Africa have improved the average quality of their research output such that it is now above the world average (normalized to 1). Meanwhile, West and Central Africa nearly doubled their share of articles published globally. However, their citation impact did not increase and remained relatively constant.

Africa's research capacity improvements have also been closely tied to the high levels of international collaboration between African-based researchers and those in Western countries. Over 70 percent of all research publications from Southern and East Africa were co-authored with an international collaborator.

Collaboration and working with Western researchers is one way for Africa to improve its research capacity, and sending researchers abroad or welcoming outside researchers to Africa is another highly effective enabling tactic. The report found that "transitory researchers" – those that spend less than two years in Africa or abroad, are far more productive and on average produce research of a higher impact research than researchers who have not had the opportunity to perform research outside of the continent.

Movements of researchers to and from Southern Africa (Source: Scopus)

Read the report

World Bank Elsevier Africa report


Read a presentation about the report


Watch the launch

The report will be launched at the Constituency for Africa town hall at the World Bank today from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET (14:30 to 16:00 GMT or convert time). Watch the live stream here.

Follow on social media

Join the larger discussion on the report and next steps for improving Africa's research enterprise by following @WorldBankAfrica and @BM_Afrique and using the hashtags #WBlive and #Science4Dev.

How Elsevier is supporting Africa's science community

In a Collaboration for Evidence Based Healthcare in Africa (CEBHA) workshop in Tanzania, two participants work together at a computer to search for evidence. (Photo by Dr. Frode Forland)While African authors have nearly doubled their article share over the past decade, the returns could be many times greater over the next decade if awareness, usage and research capacity are tackled in a collaborative and integrated manner by African institutions, access programs and publishers.

Since 2001, Elsevier has been deeply engaged in programs to foster the growth of the African science community and support African researchers to develop and enhance research output and quality. As a founding publisher of Research4Life, a public private partnership tackling access in developing countries, Elsevier supplies over a quarter of the 44,000 books, journals and databases available to doctors, researchers and policymakers in Africa and across more than 100 developing countries.  Through the Elsevier Foundation's Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries Program, annual grants totaling $300,000 are given to projects that build infrastructure, repositories, improve information literacy, and provide training to boost overall usage of Research4Life resources in Africa and beyond.

Read more about Elsevier's contributions to research capacity building in Africa:


Elsevier Connect Contributor

George LanIris KisjesGeorge Lan is a product manager for Elsevier Research Intelligence Analytical Services, specializing in social network analysis and the intersection of academic and industry research/knowledge-transfer. Prior to joining Elsevier, he worked as a research assistant on projects related to social networks, employment and inequality. He has a master's degree in Management Science from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a bachelor's degree in public affairs and international studies from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.

Iris Kisjes (@Kisjes) has worked at Elsevier for eight years, the past five in communications. She is currently Senior Corporate Relations Manager, based in Amsterdam. She has a keen interest in the knowledge economy, especially in relation to the valorization of science and the longevity of the higher education system.

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