Let's emulate South Africa research funding model, says Prof Omwoyo Bosire

Prof Omwoyo Bosire Onyancha

Prof Omwoyo Bosire Onyancha from the University of South Africa speaking during the ninth International Research Conference at Egerton University on October 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

When Prof Omwoyo Bosire Onyancha from the University of South Africa spoke during the ninth International Research Conference at Egerton University, his research message was powerful.

So timely was his message as it gelled so well with the conference theme titled: “Restructuring Education, Training, Research, and Innovation for the 21st Century and Beyond.”

His well-structured message delivered with poise, confidence, and conviction kept his audience drawn from Egerton University, Rift Valley Reading Association (RVRA), Education and Social Sciences Research Association of Kenya (ESSRAK), and top Ministry of Education officials engaged and interested.

Prof Onyancha's message on research funding was food for thought for the Kenyan government and policymakers in the Ministry of Education that could also give the struggling public universities a new lease of life.

His address had many takeaways but one critical takeaway that the audience will remember for a long time is the commitment and the restructuring of research funding that has put the rainbow nation on top of the class of best universities in Africa.

According to the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2024, South Africa dominates the top universities in Africa, and 12 South African universities are represented in the full ranking and are leading the way for the top universities in Africa.

But what is the secret of this dominance by South African universities in the global rankings?

Prof Onyancha, a research professor at the Department of Information Science at the University of South Africa says what the South African government has done is not rocket science.

“What separates South African universities and the rest of the universities in the continent is what I would call support mechanisms and incentives that have been put in place for researchers by the government. Apart from the timely payment of their salaries which can also be motivating, the research funds are readily available for use by researchers,” said Prof Onyancha.

In 2022, the gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) as a percentage of South Africa's GDP amounted to 0.85 per cent. Overall, the share has been increasing by 0.01 percentage points yearly.

 South Africa had the largest spending on research and development as a share of GDP in Africa in 2022 and overall, the government was responsible for 56.3 per cent of the country’s Research and Development while Business accounted for 26.9 per cent and foreign sources for 13.3 per cent.

In Kenya’s 2023-2024 budget, public universities and research are allocated 20 per cent of the Sh628.6 billion education budget, the same as in the previous financial year.

 Researchers in Kenya have suggested that funding for research entities (Public Universities and other National Research Institutes) be enhanced from the current 0.8 per cent of GDP, progressively to one per cent.

The don said, unlike other countries in the continent, South African universities have identified researchers who conduct research and are good at their work relieving the teaching load.

“With this kind of arrangement these researchers dedicate their time to research work unlike in other parts of Africa where researchers are also lecturers and this has improved the research status of universities and the entire country,” said Prof Onyancha.

Secondly, Prof Onyancha observed that South Africa subsidises and incentivizes research.

“Once you publish research in a journal, the government gives you a grant to continue conducting research. Nearly all the universities in South Africa attract prolific doctoral research fellows and visiting researchers from different countries and are given contracts to publish their research in South African journals and in their mother countries. That is one of the strategies that is making South African universities shine in the global and continental rankings,” explained Prof Onyancha.

At the same time, Prof Onyancha revealed that the research directorate in South Africa has been very dynamic in ensuring research productivity improves by the year.

“South Africa has also put in mechanisms which promote the publication of research in high-quality journals. This has improved metrics and ranking index of South African universities,” said Prof Onyancha.

He added: “This is one strategy that we should look at in Kenya. South Africa has a list of accredited journals that have been vetted and found to be of high quality. Researchers are encouraged to publish in those journals.”

He said the Scopus-indexed journal list is over 4,000 journals while the Web of Science journal list is equally successful with over 3,00 journals where researchers in South Africa publish their work.

Many academic institutions and funding agencies globally consider publications in Scopus-indexed journals as a significant criterion for evaluating research output.

“South Africa has also made sure that its own journals have been developed to high standards to penetrate the international markets. That is why you will find about 70 per cent of the South African journals are indexed in international Bibliographical journals.

“In Kenya, we have one journal indexed in international Bibliographical journals. That is a big difference and that is why when it comes to rankings of universities you cannot compare Kenya universities and other universities with the prowess of research in South African universities,” said Prof Onyancha

The international Bibliographical journals cover the academic journal literature in the humanities, social sciences, and related disciplines. Coverage includes journals from 40 countries and in more than 40 languages.