Researchers encouraged to find solutions to alleviate African strife

OCTOBER 7, 2016

Walter Sisulu University (WSU) Vice-Chancellor, Prof Rob Midgley, has cautioned against research becoming the white elephant of universities, asserting that it should be a vehicle to promote development from within higher education, spreading outwards to surrounding communities.

Speaking under the conference theme “Galvanising Development through Research and Innovation” at the second WSU/Univen International Research Conference held in Polokwane from 5-7 September, Midgley said true innovation originates from trying to find problem-based solutions from the communities within which the universities operate.

“You may be aware of some current popular trends within the South African research context which center around Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), African languages, Food Security, HIV/Aids and agriculture.”

“Our research at WSU is responsive to these trends in order to find “greener” and comprehensive alternatives that will move our communities forward,” said Midgley.

The conference will see close to 500 delegates from 16 countries congregate at the conference to present over 470 oral and poster presentations under various subthemes, including “Commercialisation of research findings”; “Innovative application of Indigenous Knowledge Systems”; “Language and educational research”; “Burden of disease”; “Law, commerce and governance”; as well as “Climate change and sustainable development”.

University of Venda (Univen) Vice-Chancellor Peter Mbati weighed in on proceedings, pronouncing that the conference was imperative in laying a platform for the delegates gathered at the conference to share and subsequently interrogate and critique their respective findings.

He said the conference would also prove invaluable in fostering relations key to potential future collaborations, networking, and providing space for young and emerging researchers to learn from experienced academics.

Vice-Chancellor for the University of Ibadan (Nigeria), Prof Abel Idowu Olanyika, said the nature of the contemporary environment necessitated a much more active response from universities.

“Today, universities have additional roles to play, including fundraising for research, evaluating technology, protecting research results, commercialization of research, increased collaboration with industry, entrepreneurship development, IP training for researchers, as well as technology marketing.”

“Research in the 21st century is less about the pursuit of knowledge and advancement of learning for its own sake and more about delivering economic benefits and an improved quality of life for all sections of society,” said Olanyika.

In a somber reality check, Olanyika highlighted, and cited reasons for, the subpar research output that African universities are infamously renowned for on the global sphere.

He attributed the African universities’ poor research output to lack of clearly articulated research priorities; inadequate facilities; lack of opportunities for sabbatical leave, conferences and seminars; weak collaboration between industry and the tertiary education institutions; as well as a general lack of strong academic leadership.

“There are a number of strategies one can implement in dealing with this issue, including the encouragement of multidisciplinary approaches to research, professional socialization through multiple mentoring in postgraduate training, professional socialization through multiple mentoring in postgraduate training, and comprehensive national research policies should be developed as a matter of urgency, amongst a plethora of others,” said Olanyika.

Botswana University of Science and Technology Vice-Chancellor Prof Otlogetswe Totolo said Africa needed to expedite its efforts in striving to create knowledge and wisdom-based economies for the development of its communities.

He said the socio-economic successes of the world’s leading nations can be mostly attributed to large private and government investment into research and development.

“It’s no coincidence that the leading nations have invested heavily into research and development. They’re smart in putting their money into scientific-based solutions that will see them prevent any imminent threat that could cost them billions in the long run,” said Totolo. 

Image: CAPTION: From left to right: Vice-Chancellors Prof Rob Midgely (WSU); Prof Abel Olanyika (University of Ibadan,Nigeria); Prof Otlogetswe Totolo (Botswana International University of Science & Technology); Prof Frederick Otieno (Masinde Muliro University of Science & Technology, Kenya); Prof Peter Mbati (University of Venda); together with Department of Science and Technology Chief Director for Human Capital and Science Promotion Dr Phethiwe Matutu on the opening day of the conference.