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Africa “can take the wheel” in research shift

Higher education leaders are calling for a research "rebalance" to supercharge global scholarship and create an ecosystem that doesn't disadvantage the Global South.
July 5 2023
3 Min Read

Higher education leaders are calling for a science and research “rebalance” to supercharge global scholarship and create a research ecosystem that doesn’t disadvantage Africa and the Global South.

The Africa Charter for Transformative Research Collaborations, facilitated by the Perivoli Africa Research Centre at the University of Bristol in partnership with the University of Cape Town and the University of South Africa, is seeking to put Africa in its “rightful role in research alliances”.

The new initiative, being launched at the Association of African Universities conference on July 5 in Namibia, is aiming “to redress entrenched power imbalances in global knowledge production”.

Imbalances have historically been the cause of “huge gaps” between scholars in Europe, North America and Australia, and their African counterparts, the group leading the charter said.

Higher education stakeholders are being asked to sign up to the charter, which organisers say offers a chance to “take seriously and resolve important critiques and constructive suggestions on how to build a better humanity, through truly equitable research collaborations”.

“The charter brings the global epistemological, ontological and human dignity projects together, building on an intersectionality of critiques (decolonial, feminist, indigenous, LGBTQIA++, amongst others), to offer humanity a unique opportunity to place collective research and a truly communal science at the core of advancing human dignity, world-making and futures creation,” director of the Institute for Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town, Divine Fuh, said.

“Launching the charter is just the start of a long and exciting journey towards balancing the global science and research ecosystem.”

The charter will also introduce an Africa-centred framework “setting out guiding principles and measures of success and accountability”.

“This is a radical charter and moment in history where a broad range of African people get to have agency to determine their own futures at all levels,” added Puleng Lenkabula, principal and vice chancellor of the University of South Africa.

“In this way, Africa’s agency will be fully recognised, reinforced and protected for achieving the envisioned Afrofutures.”

Pro vice-chancellor (Global Engagement) at University of Bristol, Agnes Nairn, recently wrote in The PIE that the continent is systemically excluded from research. Very few highly-cited scholars are affiliated with African universities, no universities in Africa feature in the top 200 QS universities and most of the continent only accounts for 1.6% of global scientific publications, she reminded.

“We will tackle pressing global challenges including climate change, pandemics and poverty more effectively if Africa takes a more prominent role in global transdisciplinary research,” she said in a statement on the launch of the charter.

For Perivoli chair in Africa Research and Partnerships at the University of Bristol, Isabella Aboderin, the charter signifies an “essential movement” seeking to to rebalance the entire global research ecosystem.

“The end goal is unashamedly ambitious, but the initiative recognises Global North-Africa research collaborations as a vital and viable entry point to help achieve this comprehensive shift.

“The scale of our journey will be all-encompassing and at times complex, changing mindsets, shared norms, resourcing, and policies. But the core ethos is simple and clear: the Global North must cede influence and space so Africa can take the wheel.”

“This is a matter of social justice and a matter of fostering the richer science that the global community urgently needs”

Charter signatories will co-create and further develop a comprehensive plan to achieve core objectives in coming months, while UNISA, UCT and UoB will provide stewardship and coordination.

It is important that collaboration comes from within and outside of the continent, Aboderin noted.

“Key partners are already on board and committed to playing a part, and we hope to engage more with time. However, we will require dedicated funding. The absence of such will certainly slow down the initiative, but not thwart it,” she told The PIE in a statement.

“We can no longer ignore the need for a fundamental rebalancing of the global science and research ecosystem, to ensure that scholars, institutions and knowledges from the continent take their rightful place in the global scientific effort.

“This is a matter of social justice and a matter of fostering the richer science that the global community urgently needs to properly sustain human dignity and address the multiple crises we face i.e. the rebalancing will benefit Africa and it will benefit the world.

“We must understand Africa-Global North research collaborations as the entry point, or the leverage point for advancing such a rebalancing.”

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