Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the
Department for International Development (Int Dev 00)


1. The UK Government is committed to ensuring high-quality scientific evidence is effectively integrated into policy development and delivery.

2. Strengthening the capacity of science [1] and scientists in the developing world by the British Government takes many forms and several parts of Government support it directly or indirectly. This submission to the Select Committee on Science and Technology covers some of the direct support, in particular by DFID as that is specifically mentioned as a focus for the Committee, but it should be seen in the context of work across the developing world where other Government departments take the lead. UK support with Government funding for improving science capacity in the developing world also includes: work undertaken by the British Council; the Research Councils; the professional Academies; the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission and many UK universities and other Government backed bodies. The European Union and United Nations bodies such as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation or the Food and Agriculture Organisation (which in turn the UK contributes to) provide significant levels of support in this area. In addition private and civil society organisations in the UK such as the Wellcome Trust provide major support in specific areas (for example health), and the UK Government provides collaborative support. We have excluded these from this return, but some organisations are submitting evidence separately.

3. The UK Government recognises the importance of increasing scientific capacity in developing countries, and in particular in Africa and resource poor parts of Asia. But we recognise that strengthening scientific capacity is a long-term activity, involving a number of complex interventions. The monitoring of such interventions at key milestones at steps along the way, allows DFID to gain valuable feedback on progress, allowing activity to be adjusted and improved on the basis of information gathered.

4. There are a number of steps towards building a good body of scientists in developing countries, across many specialist disciplines, including the social sciences and operational research. Addressing any of these in isolation will not lead to optimal outcomes. These include adequate schooling so that there are sufficient numbers of people entering tertiary education, undergraduate and masters level training in local universities; availability of high-quality doctoral programs; postdoctoral positions for the ablest doctoral candidates to go into; merit-based career progression, and functioning universities and other higher education institutes including proper financial management. In order to develop world-class scientists, they must also have access to research funding. There also has to be a balance across the different scientific disciplines particularly given the importance of multidisciplinary work.

Question 1: How does UK support scientific capacity building in developing countries and how should it improve?

Examples of Scientific Capacity Building in Developing Countries

5. The UK, through DFID, commissions research and capacity strengthening programmes that aim to deliver impact in developing countries by (i) improving the skills of individuals to both undertake and use research at several points in their career; (ii) strengthening the ability of research departments to fund and manage independent research and innovate; and (iii) helping to improve the enabling environment for research (for example increased Government funding for research or the establishment of national research councils).

6. All directly managed research consortia are required to have a research capacity building component. This includes realistic and achievable plans for country-led research and devolving research responsibility to Southern partners.

7. In areas where DFID has identified significant gaps, it has, or is in the process of developing, stand alone research capacity initiatives in order to provide longer term, more predictable funding to Southern country research organisations and networks.

8. DFID often collaborates with others who have expertise in this area, including the British Council, Research Councils, Commonwealth Scholarships Commission and the Wellcome Trust. Examples of DFID centrally-funded programmes supporting research capacity strengthening in sectors with a significant science component include the following. A full list can be provided to the Committee on request:

a) Agriculture

Strengthening Agricultural Research and Development in Africa

9. There is a significant lack of capacity to conduct and manage agricultural research in Africa. This programme aims to strengthen human and organisational capacity to ensure that National Agricultural Research Systems are better able to identify, generate and deliver research outputs that meet the needs of the poor. It has strengthened the organisational capacity of 12 institutions to deliver training and supported MSc graduates in 10 countries including Rwanda, Sudan, Zambia, DRC and Mali. Interim evaluation results indicate that the graduates have started to play important roles in leading research initiatives in their countries and institutions.

b) Climate change

Policy Innovation Systems for Clean Energy Security

10. DFID is responding to identified capacity needs in Policy Innovation Systems for Clean Energy Security within four countries in East Africa by building research skills for young scientists in the area of bioenergy. To date 19 MSc students have graduated, while 17 MSc and 8 PhD students are in the process of studying. Twelve papers (eight peer reviewed), two Book Chapters and two Books have been published.

c) Health

Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiative – Kenya (DFID and Wellcome Trust)

11. In Kenya the pool of scientists is aging and most health research is un-coordinated and funder-reliant. This programme is addressing these constraints by taking a ‘whole systems’ approach to capacity building. It addresses research governance, improving researcher skills and career progression, as well as strengthening demand for research outputs by the Ministry of Health. It has delivered:

· Improved capacity of young Kenyans to undertake research, with research from intern to post-doctoral levels.

· Strengthened capacity within Kenyan research organisations: four centres of research excellence have been established.

· Improved enabling environment for research: ongoing work with the National Council for Science &Technology to strengthen ethics regulations, raise the profile of science with young Kenyans and establish a knowledge sharing platform to facilitate policy making.

European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Platform

12. The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Platform, with significant UK Government support, undertakes training in clinical trials that focuses on poverty related diseases. It is a partnership between 14 EU countries and Norway and African countries. Specific capacity development includes strengthening skills in laboratory expertise, research monitoring and research management.

d) Infrastructure

Africa Community Access Programme

13. The focus of this programme is sustainable road provision and maintenance and reliable access for poor communities. To strengthen research capacity it has established a community of practice of 530 experts across Africa, comprising transport practitioners in agencies and ministries across the African focal countries. This is enabling knowledge sharing of the latest research, providing new links for efficient transport provision, as well as ensuring the sustainability of the network.

e) Social Science

African Economic Research Consortium (AERC)

14. The AERC is a capacity building programme supporting African universities to raise the quality of MSc and PhD programmes through enhanced teaching and mentoring. Approximately 100 MSc graduates and 5 PhD graduates are trained each year.

15. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, the Minister of Finance, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, and the economic advisors to both the President and the Prime Minister are AERC graduates. So are the governors of the central banks of Nigeria and Kenya and the general manager of the Bank of Mozambique. Impact mediated through behavioural change in governance is demonstrated through the number of AERC alumni occupying senior positions in Africa.

16. Additionally DFID country offices are often involved in projects where there are perceived to be gaps specific to that country. Three examples include DFID-Nepal which provides support for the National Academy for Science and Technology; DFID-India’s support for Indian scientists to publish work on climate change, and to prepare research bids; and DFID’s work with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh (ICDDR, B)

In other developing or middle-income countries other Government Departments undertake work which includes significant capacity strengthening for science. Examples include:

17. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser and the Head of the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) Sir John Beddington made the first high level science visit to Vietnam in 2009, during which opportunities for collaboration on Biotechnology and Biological sciences were identified.  The visit was followed by a BBSRC mission that led to a joint project on rice genome sequencing being taken forward by the John Innes Centre and Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology.  The project is helping develop scientific capacity in Vietnam as well as providing information to improve flood, drought, salt and pest tolerance in the world's most important staple food in the face of a changing climate and growing population.

18. The GO-Science Foresight Unit has invested in a programme of ‘follow-up’ to its major projects including working with developing countries and emerging economies to help them develop or enhance their scientific capacity. Two example s are :

A. The report Infectious Diseases: preparing for the future (2006) analysed the science and social context of the future long-term risks for plant, animal and human health in the UK and Africa. This led to a consortium of leading African organisations from five countries established the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance in Tanzania. This Africa-led initiative has attracted support from a range of international donors. In addition, the African Union commissioned Foresight’s lead African experts to develop the ‘AU Science and Technology Framework for the Detection, Identification and Monitoring of Infectious Diseases in Africa'.

B. The Foresight report Future Flooding (2004) has had major international impact, not least as the basis of a four-year UK-China ‘flagship’ project on sustainable flood-risk management; and the Foresight report on the Future of Food and Farming (2011), which was jointly commissioned by DFID and Defra, has had wide international impact.

19. The Department of Health (DH) supports scientific capacity building in developing countries through their role as secretariat for the cross-Government Health agenda through the Global Outcomes Framework. Examples of DH activities to assist scientific capacity building include: the development of e-learning packages and training materials for health professionals outside the UK; international knowledge sharing and awareness events and overseas secondments for shared learning purposes.

20. DH bilateral work provides significant opportunity for capacity building, including capacity building to support the science behind the reform and development of health care systems in countries such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa.

21. The UK supports the conservation and sustainable use of global biodiversity predominantly through the Darwin Initiative.  This small grants programme, which is jointly managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DFID, funds projects between UK institutions and developing countries and has supported over 700 projects in 156 developing countries since 1992.  It aims to share UK expertise in conservation and scientific techniques with host countries, and has seen long-lasting legacies established in developing countries benefitting better scientific evidence on native biodiversity, more effective conservation management and enhanced capacity building in the host countries benefitting both individuals and communities. 

22. The UK is also working to address global research challenges in the area of animal health. Defra is leading an EU-sponsored strategic global alliance, funded under the Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) that will promote the coordination and cooperation at international level of animal health research programmes, in particular infectious diseases including zoonoses. 

Chevening Scholarships

23. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) run the Chevening Scholarships scheme which offers scholarships to citizens from over 100 countries. Since its establishment in 1983, thousands of Chevening scholars have studied, and continue to study, a wide range of science and technology related courses. FCO now have an active scholarship programme in all its relevant missions. The success of the programme means that there are now over 35,000 Chevening alumni in total, the majority of whom live in countries which are eligible for Official Development Assistance. The Chevening Scholarships scheme is building networks with future leaders and decision-makers in science and technology as well in a range of other fields including international relations, economics, media and law.

24. The Science and Innovation Network (SIN) is jointly run by FCO and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The network consists of around 90 staff, based in 40 British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, across 25 countries around the world. SIN promotes strategic partnerships between UK and international science and innovation communities to enhance research, business and policy interests, which helps to contribute to research capacity building.

25. BIS supports research capacity through the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme. This is designed to foster long term institutional collaborations in the humanities and social sciences based on long-term links between UK and overseas scholars.

26. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in collaboration with DFID has funded projects on climate change impacts on agriculture. These projects involve close partnership with scientists in India and China.  An important element of these projects has been the training of Chinese and Indian scientists on climate models developed at the Met Office Hadley Centre.   In addition, DECC is in the process of finalising a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy research with the Government of Bangladesh.  This MoU will include a significant element of capacity building in Bangladesh on energy policy, greenhouse gas inventory and energy modelling.  Finally, DECC is supporting the establishment of a Low Carbon Energy for Development Network which brings together leading energy institutes in the UK and will develop a programme of bilateral projects on energy with developing country academic institutes.  The expansion of bilateral projects will directly lead to enhancing scientific and technical capacity in these countries.

ii) How should UK support for scientific capacity building in developing countries improve?

27. In 2011 the DFID external Research Advisory Committee of distinguished academics, chaired by Sir Leszek Borysiewicz FRS FMedSci (Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge) reviewed approaches to capacity strengthening in research following an internal review of DFID’s research capacity initiatives. Several major themes came from this, including that trying to achieve capacity strengthening only through research consortia was likely to lead to uneven results. The considerable time needed to plan and execute good capacity strengthening is a significant issue where there have to be limitations in administrative budgets. DFID is therefore committed to trying to concentrate on a limited portfolio of things it can do well, taking account both of need, its own comparative advantage, and what others are doing in a crowded field. There is a relatively poor evidence base on research capacity strengthening (in all areas, not just those funded by the UK Government). DFID is building a better evidence base by:

A. Commissioning seven systematic reviews by discipline to provide a baseline on evidence of effective capacity interventions at the institutional, organisational and individual levels. The reviews will cover the following disciplines: agriculture health, education, climate change, environment, economics, social and political science.

B. Commissioning a research programme to (a) develop a better understanding of research capacity strengthening as a process; (b) develop a monitoring framework (with indicators) and impact evaluation strategy that would apply across the different disciplines; and (c) assess research capacity gaps by discipline and geographic region to inform priorities.

Question 2: What are the most effective models and mechanisms for supporting research capacity in developing countries?

28. The evidence base on research capacity strengthening remains thin. DFID is helping to address this gap (paragraph 25).

29. The threefold approach to research capacity strengthening (paragraph 4) is probably the most effective. This approach has evolved significantly from a narrow focus on training and fellowships to dealing more systematically with the capacity of individuals, organisations and the broader enabling environment within which they operate to undertake research.

30. In many developing country research organisations these three elements are not aligned. Where staff are trained, organisational structures may inhibit performance through top heavy or ineffective management. And even when research departments or universities are well structured and well managed, performance may still be poor due to weak incentive regimes (arising from low pay, nepotism in appointments and promotions, the absence of effective discipline, lack of commitment to research and culture of the organisation, etc).

31. It is increasingly recognised in the academic and practitioner literature that turning individual competence into organisational research capacity requires institutional change. This is complex and there is no one-size fits all solution. As a result, DFID uses a range of different approaches to capacity building, including:

A. Research partnerships: between southern researchers/research institutions and international researchers. An example is

Sustainable Agricultural Research for International Development (SARID) and Combating Infectious Diseases in Livestock for International Development (CIDLID)

32. These two programmes focus on improving capacity in plant breeding and biotechnology by strengthening North-South partnerships. It has supported 32 research collaborations between UK Research Institutions and Southern Universities and Institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Senegal and Uganda. Alongside the research, targeted training at post doctoral, PhD and MSc levels responds to specific gaps in research skills

B. Direct training and mentoring: through formal and informal training schemes such as internships, PhD programmes, and research methodology and uptake training, etc. Examples include:

Tropical Disease Research Special Programme (TDR)

33. The WHO/UNDP/UNICEF/WB Tropical Disease Research Special Programme‘s purpose is to strengthen research into the most neglected tropical diseases and to provide training and capacity building for developing countries to develop and implement new and improved disease control approaches. It has been responsible for training many hundreds of scientists and decision makers from a wide range of developing countries over the past three decades.

Developing Partnerships in Higher Education Programme (Del PHE)

34. The UK Government supports scientific capacity building in 25 priority countries through the Developing Partnerships in Higher Education Programme (DelPHE), delivered in partnership with the British Council. The programme supports links between universities and institutions which build capacity in science and technology related knowledge and skills. DelPHE supports:

· 22 partnerships South/South partnerships

· 178 North/South partnerships (68% Africa, 32% Asia)

· 68 partnerships linking two or more countries

· Recent evaluation confirms that as a result of DelPHE, 128 departments are producing internationally recognised research.

35. Examples include The African Partnership for Public Health which is led by South Africa, and linked with the UK (University of Strathclyde), Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Swaziland. In Iraq 14 Higher Education institutions throughout Iraq have benefitted from 35 partnerships with UK and other universities, and a significant number of these partnerships are focused on science; De Montfort University and Kerbala University are working together to develop a forensic science curriculum; Reading University is supporting Diyala University to restore teaching expertise in its Chemistry Department.

36. With DFID support, the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (CSC) runs a range of scholarship and fellowship schemes which enable people from the Commonwealth’s developing countries to pursue studies or professional development with UK institutions. Of 2,860 new awards made in the four years from 2007-10, 36% are classified as being in science and technology. A further 9% took up awards classified as Agriculture Forestry, Veterinary Science and Environment, and a further 15% in Medicine, Dentistry and Public Health. The vast majority of awardees (approximately 88% according to a 2008 CSC survey) return to their country of origin after completing their studies.

C. Core funding of southern research institutions or regional organisations as a means to support well managed research institutions and regional networks. An example includes:

Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA)

37. The absence of strong and well-resourced agriculture research organisations in Africa is slowing down the generation and uptake of research needed to stimulate growth and reduce poverty. To address this gap, DFID has been supporting regional agricultural research organisations through its support to the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa. DFID has enabled ASARECA to strengthen its organisational capacity to conduct and manage research. A 2011 evaluation by USAID highlighted the following outcomes:

· New technologies generated and disseminated,

· Evidence of impact in increased productivity, household incomes and food security,

· Application of more effective methods and partnerships in scaling-up agricultural technology,

· harmonization of policies that have proven valuable in supporting market access and intra-regional trade, and strengthened institutional capacity of national institutions.

D. Support to regional capacity strengthening bodies that target specific disciplines and provide technical support to university departments and manage competitive grants. For example:

Partnership for African Social and Governance Research

38. African social science institutions are in the words of the Commission for Africa Report in "a state of crisis", reflected by diminishing resources, declining academic standards, falling outputs and limited engagement in domestic policy formulation. This programme has been designed to strengthen the capacity of African universities and research institutions; produce relevant governance and social policy research; enhance university curricula; and strengthen demand and capacity for research uptake in Africa. It includes a collaborative Higher Education Programme combining a focus on social science research with public policy. Sixteen African universities from nine countries are involved in what is effectively new academic terrain in Africa. In addition, it funds an Africa-wide research programme through competitive grants that are designed to support teams of African researchers from different organisations (universities, think tanks, research capable NGOs) rather than a focus on individual research training.

Question 3: How does the UK monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the scientific capacity building activities it supports? Is further assessment or oversight required?

39. Strengthening research and science capacity in developing countries is a long-term issue and it is widely considered a difficult area to assess - reflected for example in the conclusions of the joint Academy of Medical Sciences/Royal College of Physicians/Wellcome Trust meeting in November 2011 on building institutions through equitable partnerships. However, it is possible to track outputs, and longer-term outcomes. For this, the UK Government through DFID has guidance on design and monitoring of research capacity strengthening programmes. In line with this guidance, all programmes with a significant capacity component are required to conduct institutional assessments; develop research capacity strategies; collect baseline data; and monitor progress annually.

Question 4: What role does DFID’s CSA play in determining priorities and in the development and assessment of capacity building policies?

40. The CSA Prof. Christopher Whitty, supported by the Deputy CSA Prof. Tim Wheeler, has direct oversight of priorities in capacity building through delegated authority for the central research budget which funds many of the science capacity strengthening activities. Additionally they, or some of DFID’s Senior Research Fellows seconded in from academia, are involved in wider DFID strategy on science including capacity strengthening, and the CSA sits on the Development and Investment sub-Committees of the Management Board.

Question 5: How are government activities co-ordinated with the private and voluntary sectors?

41. The GO-Science has the mandate to co-ordinate cross Whitehall efforts in areas of Science and Engineering, under the leadership of Sir John Beddington. The relevant CSAs meet regularly (typically weekly) informally, and in formal meetings. DFID has a Civil Society Department which coordinates with NGO and other civil society organisations, and an International Division which coordinates with multilateral groups such as CSC and UNESCO, which sit in the same general directorate as the DFID CSA and Chief Economist. The UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) provides a forum through which both Government, arms-lengths bodies such as Research Councils, and major private science foundations (Wellcome and Gates) coordinate their activities. Internationally there is also the International Forum of Research Donors (IFORD) which includes other Governments and private organisations working in this area such as the Rockefeller, Hewlett and Ford Foundations.

Acronyms and abbreviations


Africa Community Access Programme


African Union


Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa


Department for Business, Innovation and Skills


Combating Infectious Diseases in Livestock for International Development


Commonwealth Scholarships Commission


Chief Scientific Adviser

Deputy CSA

Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Developing Partnerships in Higher Education Programme


Department for International Development


Department for Health


Democratic Republic of the Congo


European Union


Food and Agriculture Organization


Foreign and Commonwealth Office


Seventh Research Framework Programme


Government Chief Scientific Adviser


Government Office for Science


International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh


International Forum of Research Donors


Non-Governmental Organisation


Master of Science


Doctor of Philosophy


Sustainable Agricultural Research for International Development


UK Collaborative on Development Sciences


United Nations Development Programme


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation


United Nations Children's Fund


United States Agency for International Development


World Bank


World Health Organisation

Department for International Development

19 December 2011

[1] The working definition of science for this submission includes natural and physical sciences as well social sciences (including statistics and economics).


Prepared 22nd December 2011