Message from the Vice-Chancellor


Dr Max Price

universities in Africa must stand together. In particular, we need to develop the capability on our continent to take on the research needed to solve Africa’s problems.

Five years ago we set ourselves a goal to achieve greater impact and greater engagement for our research. This Research Report is testament to the many ways in which our researchers are making breakthroughs in solving global – and specifically African – problems, from health to climate, while we remain engaged with issues relevant to our communities. We are operating at the frontiers of knowledge, developing mathematical algorithms and codes that will launch rockets into space and bearding Stephen Hawking in his den.

The globalisation of academic research is an irreversible trend. A recent report by the US National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, shows that a quarter of the science papers published in 2012 had international co-authors – a figure that rises to more than half in the United Kingdom. In this global maelstrom, the voice of the global South in general, and Africa in particular, is almost lost. It is crucial that Africa takes its place in this global economy so that its voice is heard.

To achieve this, universities in Africa must stand together. In particular, we need to develop the capability on our continent to take on the research needed to solve Africa’s problems: this requires that we train new generations of scholars, providing them with desirable career paths and creating and maintaining the infrastructure to cope with the demands of research in the 21st century.

The University of Cape Town is already working to achieve this in numerous ways. For instance, the Carnegie Project: Growing the Next Generation of Academics for Africa is an extensive programme at four universities in Africa that provides support and funding for postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows (see more). Many of our large research grants have an inbuilt requirement to develop capacity in Africa through the funding granted to the University of Cape Town (see more).

These grants also help us to provide important infrastructure and technological capabilities to take on cutting-edge research. This is particularly true of the increasing need to extract information from data-intensive research, which is becoming essential in fields as diverse as astronomy and genomics (see more). The University of Cape Town is determined to be at the forefront of developing and funding this capacity: if we don’t, we will not be able to play in the big league.

The importance of increasing capacity for research in Africa cannot be overstated. Africa faces problems that are global (such as climate change) but also local (the highest rates of HIV and TB in the world). Where they are global, we need to be able to give that research local and regional context. For instance, urbanisation is a global trend, but the way it manifests in Africa is entirely different from that in the Global North and even in other parts of the developing world (see more). Where our problems are particular to Africa, we need to put them on the global research agenda while simultaneously developing strategies to solve them ourselves. Sickle cell anemia is the number one monogenic disease in Africa, for instance, yet it does not receive a great deal of academic attention in the Global North. The University of Cape Town’s research project in sickle cell anemia therefore has a large component dedicated to providing training in genomics to researchers from all over Africa.

This must be the template for much of our research. Where we have expertise and equipment, we must share it. It is to this end that the University of Cape Town is currently working with other institutions to build a network of research universities across Africa: leading institutions with strength in research and postgraduate training who will share skills and resources, co-ordinate research and training and work together to develop research priorities.

If it is to take control of its own future, Africa must generate its own knowledge and, in doing so, contribute to global knowledge.