A Decade of Development in Sub-Saharan African Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Research

A report by the World Bank and Elsevier

The World Bank and Elsevier partnered on this report to examine and compare the research enterprise of sub-Saharan Africa from 2003 to 2013, with a special emphasis on research in STEM. The report focuses on research output and citation impact, regional and international research collaboration, and researcher mobility, all important indicators of the strength of the subcontinent's research enterprise.

To generate this report, Elsevier's Analytical Services analyzed three different regions in sub-Saharan Africa (West & Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa) and compared the research enterprises of those regions to that of South Africa, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The latter two countries had a comparable research base to the SSA regions at the beginning of the period of analysis. The report drew on a variety of data sources including Scopus data, R&D expenditure, population, and human capital data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics, and patent information from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and LexisNexis TotalPatent.

The core findings

The report presents four main developments over the past decade in research in sub-Saharan Africa:

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa has greatly increased both the quantity and quality of its research output over the past decade, but countries with comparable levels of research output in 2003 grew even fast over the same period.
    • All three SSA regions more than doubled their yearly research output from 2003 to 2012, and the subcontinent's (excluding South Africa) share of global research has increased from 0.44% to 0.72% over the decade. However, SSA still accounts for less than 1% of the world's research output compared withits share of global population at 12%.
      Figure E.1 - Overall number of articles and Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for SSA regions and comparator countries, 2003-2012.
      Figure E.1 - Overall number of articles and Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for SSA regions and comparator countries, 2003-2012. Source: Scopus.
  2. Sub-Saharan African research output in STEM lags that of other subject areas significantly.
    • Research in the Physical Sciences & STEM makes up only 29% of all research in SSA. In contrast, STEM research constitutes the largest share of Malaysia and Vietnam's total output, and that share continues to grow.
      Figure E.2 
      Figure E.2 — Percentage of total article output in the Physical Sciences & STEM versus the Health Sciences for sub-Saharan Africa regions and comparator countries, 2012. Source: Scopus.
  3. East Africa and Southern Africa rely heavily on international collaboration and visiting faculty for their research output.
    • In 2012, 79%, 70% and 45% of all research by Southern Africa, East Africa, and West & Central Africa, respectively, were produced through international collaborations. In contrast, 68%, 45%, and 32% of Vietnam, South Africa and Malaysia's research output, respectively, were produced through international collaborations.
    • Similarly, a large percentage of SSA researchers are non-local and transitory – that is, based on their publication history, they originally are based at institution outside of SSA, spend less than 2 years at an institution in SSA before leaving for an institution outside of SSA. 39% and 48% of all East and Southern African researchers, respectively, fall into this category.
      Figure E.3 - Level of international collaboration for SSA regions (2012) and percentage of non-local, transitory researchers for SSA regions, 1996-2013.
      Figure E.3 - Level of international collaboration for SSA regions (2012) and percentage of non-local, transitory researchers for SSA regions, 1996-2013. Source: Scopus.
  4. SSA's research appears fragmented across regions, with each of the regions collaborating very little with one another. Inter-SSA collaborations (collaborations without any South-African or international collaborator) comprise just 2%, 0.9%, and 2.9% of all East African, West & Central African, and Southern African total research output.

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