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Science in Africa Unevenly Funded

A new report based on a four-year international study jointly funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung foundation in Germany and the International Development Research Centre in Canada has found that science in Africa is very unevenly funded. And as Nature News reports, because researchers in Africa still rely heavily on organizations from the US, China, and Europe for funding, the biggest grants tend to go to the fields favored by those organizations.

The report, called The Next Generation of Scientists in Africa, found that only about 2 percent of scientists from a small number of countries and fields receive million-dollar grants, while almost half say they don't receive any research funding. Fields such as agriculture and health sciences get the most money from foreign funders, Nature News adds.

The report's authors surveyed 5,700 African researchers between May 2016 and February 2017 and analyzed papers listed in the Web of Science that had African authors and were published between 2005 and 2016. The biggest funders included the EU, the NIH, the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the German research-funding organization DFG, and the Spanish government, Nature News says. Only two African funders, South Africa's research foundation and Tunisia's science ministry, featured in the top ten. 

"Their role is so pervasive that if they were to pull out, research on the continent would be seriously disrupted and in most countries, it would literally grind to a halt," Alphonsus Neba, deputy programs director for research support management at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, tells Nature News about the role foreign funders play in African science.

The top-funded researchers in the survey tended to be male, older than 40, and from a small subset of countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia. Foreign financing was also linked to a higher level of international collaboration, Nature News reports.
"Overall, the report supports the notion of a 'rising tide of African science.' African scientists have more than trebled their production of research papers from around 15,000 in 2005 to 54,000 in 2016 — with Africa's share of the world's scientific output reaching 3.2 percent — and those papers generate more citations," Nature News says. "But these positive changes are likely a result of a continued increase in investment by international funders and greater collaboration, rather than result of strategies or polices of African governments, the report suggests."