Research Capacity Gap Analysis
Among the key early activities that LASER PULSE engaged in was a capacity assessment for research conducted by low- and middle-income country (LMIC) universities that comprise a majority of the LASER PULSE Network. This effort was implemented by Makerere University, and initially focused on university partners and affiliated institutions in sub-Saharan Africa that are members of the Makerere-led ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) www.ranlab.org.
Rationale for the Gap Analysis
Research ecosystems in LMIC universities like those in Africa face many challenges. These challenges lead to a relatively lower level of research output from LMIC universities compared to developed country universities. Not only do inadequate data and tools to hinder their ability to inform development decisions among development practitioners and funders in LMICs, but involvement of LMIC universities in generating this data is low compared to the level of need for such evidence.
Notwithstanding these shortfalls, LMIC universities are strategically placed to address the information and data needs to inform development in their countries and localities given that they have: (1) large pools of experienced scholars in proximity to the target communities, (2) a better understanding of the local context and related development issues, and (3) strong linkages with government entities. These universities therefore possess great potential for supporting USAID in solving pressing development challenges through research. In order to increase development research outputs from LMIC universities, there is need to build research capacity for these universities. This requires identification of top capacity strengths and gaps in these ecosystems — a key activity of LASER PULSE — to facilitate the design of specific mechanisms to fill some of these gaps.
The survey was designed to answer questions such as:
- What systems and infrastructure exist to encourage and support research as opposed to teaching?
- What incentives or barriers exist to commercializing research?
- Characterize the research relationship between the government and the HEI? Private sector and HEI. Are HEIs seen as legitimate sources of evidence upon which to base government policies? Of innovation for private sector?
- What are incentives for junior faculty? When and how does tenure occur?
- At what point in academic careers are faculty allowed to supervise graduate students as research assistants? Do research assistantships exist?
- Do faculty participate in international development project research? In what ways? How do they make these contacts?
- Are any special provisions made to incentivize female researchers? Are there any conditions that discourage female faculty from the research enterprise?
A highlight of the research findings
Participating Universities were highly variable in size and ownership. They included both privately-owned and Government-owned institutions. Overall, the research ecosystems of the surveyed HEIs were found to be strong in the following aspects: existence of technical linkages with national level sector ministries, existence of linkages with communities and community-level presence, presence of functional and adequately supported research support offices, and availability of systems to track financial spending against budget and accountability for research projects.
The HEIs were found to be weakest in the following dimensions: human capital development, participation of females in research, the relationship between HEIs’ research departments with the respective Governments departments, research infrastructure such as well-equipped laboratories and stocked libraries; and partnerships with HEIs from high-income countries (HICs). Findings from the research capacity assessment cover the areas of research infrastructure, continuity and sustainability, linkages, partnerships and collaboration, leadership, empowerment, dissemination, knowledge translation and research applicability.
Use of the Study Results
The results of this study are being used to identify, prioritize, and describe key capacity gaps that need to be addressed in order to increase development research outputs and impacts from LMIC universities. The findings also informed the design of institutional capacity-strengthening activities for researchers, university officials at the individual HEIs, and institutional network secretariats, so that the activities are targeted to areas of highest need.
For further information, please see links to the reports and a webinar recording below:
For similar analysis done in Vietnam and Ethiopia, read the reports shared within the links below:
- Understanding Vietnam’s Higher Education Institution Research Infrastructure, Research Translation, and Sustainability Mechanisms
- Understanding Ethiopia’s Higher Education Institution Research Infrastructure, Research Translation, and Sustainability Mechanisms