Two leading university networks have called for the creation of an African Research Council and for a €1 billion (£835 million) a year investment in scholarship on the continent.
An African Research Council would be modelled on the European Research Council and funded by the European Union and the African Union, according to a paper published by the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities and the African Research Universities Alliance.
According to the two networks, “an ambitious new initiative for African universities” is needed. Rapid population growth in Africa will create “dramatic challenges” for both it and Europe in the future, making it important to substantially increase the educational capacities of the continent’s universities, particularly at postgraduate level, the paper says.
Introducing new continent-wide and regional competitive research-funding programmes in Africa, through an African Research Council, would be key to this, according to the report, which says the funder’s independence would have to be guaranteed by a scientific council.
The report also calls for more funding for collaborative research involving European and African researchers, and the creation of 20 new doctoral schools, each supporting up to 100 PhD candidates a year.
It also suggests that the EU-AU funding could bankroll half the cost of a new type of five-year postdoctoral post in African universities.
Jan Palmowski, secretary general of the European guild, said that although the EU had already signalled that it was prioritising partnerships and investment in Africa, the guild and the ARUA felt that “it didn’t really have enough substance for genuine collaboration and partnership”.
While the EU cannot match the huge amount of money that China has begun pouring into the continent, “it could do something that was genuinely positive and beneficial and really add to the solution”, he said.
Ernest Aryeetey, secretary general of the ARUA, welcomed the plan. “African researchers have long been looking for an independent African institution capable of mobilising resources for research from the region and disbursing these in a professional manner,” he said. “An independent and well-resourced African Research Council, not subject to national politics, will be the ideal solution for many.”
The report adds that it is also critical that African governments prioritise investment in research and innovation themselves.