BY MEHARI BEYENE
Ethiopia values science and technology education. As it is one of the tools to gear- up the country’s all-round development, the nation has given due attention to science and technology sector. This sphere has immense importance and deep relationships among industries. Science and technology sector has the potential to generate and provide solutions for development bottlenecks.
Hence, the country’s research institutes, technology centers, technological enterprises, and various science and technology supportive services in various sectors have to play a great role in innovating new technologies. In this case, higher educational institutions would take the responsibly for the actual development and performance of science and technology activities. They have to work coordinately and aggressively. Because technology support services, research and development units are thought necessary particularly in areas requiring special attentions.
World Bank Group e-library in its “Improving the Performance of Ethiopian Universities in Science and Technology,” edition said that the government is improving the performance of Ethiopian universities in science and technology that the country has demonstrated commitment to expand higher education science and technology programs to spur and support its growth and transformation agenda. Yes, Ethiopia has made a tremendous advance in access to higher education over the past decade.
The rapid expansion, however, has raised concerns about the quality of education. Many students are entering universities with a low level of academic preparation. Qualified faculty is in short supply, especially in science and technology. Hence. The Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency (HERQA) was established to implement a quality assurance system for higher education, but it lacks the resources to carry out its mission. However, it needs a key reform options and policy measures to improve the performance of the higher education science and technology system.
Moreover, University World News under in its “How universities can foster a scientific research culture?” edition said that scientific research has become a powerful buzzword in the vision and mission statements of all African universities. Some African universities have even stated that their vision is of becoming research-intensive institutions in the near future.
However, observations of African universities indicate that most have either no evolving scientific research culture, a weak research culture or no scientific research culture at all. Teaching continues to occupy a central role though they may claim to be research oriented.
Yet, it is doubtful if a university could attain research excellence or contribute to national transformation of its country through the creation, application and transfer of knowledge without a vibrant scientific research culture, it said.
But, why a scientific research culture matters? Until recently, international donor organizations such as the World Bank had written off African universities as elitist and wasteful of scarce resources. Now the World Bank says that African universities could make a tremendous contribution to African development through their research activities. This suggests that African universities that foster a scientific research culture are more useful to Africa’s socio-economic development relative to those that principally concentrate on teaching.
Above all, fostering a scientific research culture in African universities is critical to improving the human conditions in Africa. Africa has a colonial history and it continues to be haunted by its colonial past. In light of its colonial history, Africa needs a critical mass of intellectuals and scholars whose primary interest and mindset is the well-being of the continent.
Developing a scientific research culture is a sure pathway to creating that critical mass of intellectuals and scholars. These intellectuals and scholars would represent a vanguard for the transformation of the African continent and also change the image of the continent.
Furthermore, scientific research is a major driver of social and economic innovation in that it produces new knowledge, skills and attitudes which are crucial for economic growth and technological development. Africa needs this to gain an economic competitive advantage and to improve the living conditions of its burgeoning population of young people.
Researchers have long established a direct link between research and policy. Research informs policy and policy also informs research. In fact, without African continent-based research activities, African countries will not find efficacious solutions to their home-grown problems stemming from the environment, their political system, education, health, housing, agriculture and technology infrastructure, it said.
Importantly, African indigenous knowledge exists in the larger African society and is embedded in traditional political institutions, commerce, parenting, healthcare, food preparation and preservation and agricultural practices.
Nurturing a scientific research culture in African universities could bridge the gap between these two forms of knowledge and ensure that African indigenous knowledge is part of the body of knowledge taught and researched at university level. This would make African universities more relevant to the entirety of African society.
However, leadership is the most important of these in that the other elements depend considerably on it. For example, collaboration, an essential building block of a scientific research culture, involves bringing departments, faculties and schools together to do scientific research.
Accordingly, collaboration requires participatory decision-making, relationship-building, communication, information sharing and team spirit. All these fall under the purview of leadership. It should also be noted that a scientific research culture is a subculture of an overarching organizational culture built on shared values, beliefs and assumptions and a sense of how people behave towards each other, how decisions are made and how activities are performed, it said.
In some cases, organizational culture is written down in the form of mission and vision statements, strategic plans and human resources policies, but in others it is unwritten.
In most African contexts, it is difficult for institutional leaders to promote a scientific research culture if they themselves are not researchers. If they were, institutional leaders could help to sustain the development of a scientific research culture at least in the formative years until such time that research became widely accepted as an institutional norm, value and belief. The development of research capacity is an indispensable part of research culture, it said.
Initiatives such as graduate research conferences where graduate students can present their own research findings, research symposiums for both students and faculties, and research awards which reward excellence are also important for fostering a scientific research culture in a university.
Moreover, promoting a scientific research culture in a university means that students at undergraduate and post graduate level understand research theories and practices. At the bachelor degree level students should study the nature of evidence, analyses that evidence, summarizing articles or book chapters and practice referencing authors of digital documents, websites, newspapers, magazines and academic journals via direct and indirect quotes. Equally, they should learn how to formulate a thesis.
These research skills could be integrated across the curriculum or developed as standalone courses, addressing the constant refrain that it is too expensive to teach undergraduate students these skills.
Meanwhile, Engineer Tesfaye Workineh, Co-Chair of the Ethiopia 2050 Steering Committee said that by 2050, according to the elites, Ethiopia’s population is projected to double from 100 million to 200 million people. The report formulated by a Blue Ribbon Panel consisting of an independent group of Ethiopian and Ethiopian-origin experts with diverse professional backgrounds.
Regarding economic growth, he noted that job creation across a network of cities and rural areas should emphasize the transition to a knowledge-based and digital economy and transform Ethiopia’s transportation, construction, and advanced manufacturing capacities. Such an ecosystem will help co-locate infrastructure for health services, ICT services, farming, water supply, etc. In some of these, such as health services (telemedicine) and ICT services, the underlying technology is common and avoids redundancies and inefficiencies, he added.
He remarked that Ethiopia can become a leading in Africa in several areas such as advanced manufacturing, digital economy, AI, and medical tourism. It is also noteworthy that the contributors put together a clear multi-generational execution plan that focuses on the next decade leading to 2050.
THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD AUGUST 20/ 2021