Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by David Strangway PhD, FRSC, OC
(Int Dev 06)

"We in Africa must either begin to build up our science and technology training capacity or remain an impoverished appendage to the global economy." President Kagame Rwanda

1. I submit this response to the committee as a Canadian deeply interested in the development of capacity in Science, Technology and Innovation in African universities. I grew up in Africa, although I am Canadian. My parents were medical missionaries in Angola from 1927 to 1967. Theirs was a life in tropical medicine where they created and ran a major hospital that served Africans for many decades. In reality they were part of the capacity of that country at that time..

2. I have been on the faculty at MIT and subsequently was the chief of earth and planetary sciences for NASA during the Apollo missions to the moon. This was followed by the presidency of the University of Toronto and then of the University of British Columbia.

3. In 1998 I was the founding president of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This was an organization funded by Canada’s federal government. This funded research facilities at Canadian universities in order to provide first rate research equipment. The universities had to find matching funds, To date the federal government has invested over $5 billion in this foundation. The purpose was to help Canada reverse its serious brain drain problem as we were losing many of our best academic researchers to the United States. Canada like other countries was pushing hard to be part of the emerging knowledge economy.

4. In 2000 the federal government took a further step to help close the brain drain gap. I was involved with the establishment and operation of a program of 2000 Canada Research Chairs to be placed at Canadian universities. These positions have also had a major impact on ensuring that Canada could retain and attract the best academic researchers. This continuing program is funded at $300 million per year.

5. In 2004 I founded a small not for profit private university focused on undergraduate students on Canada’s west coast.. This liberal arts and science university opened its doors in 2007 and has now graduated its first class. Indeed it has already received the highest ranking of 700 universities in North America after interviewing 280,000 students in the US and Canada.

"We, the members of NASAC are convinced that a sustainable economic future lies in strengthening the continent’s S and T capacity". Network of African Science Academies

"--- development is a knowledge intensive activity that cannot be imposed from the outside". Calestous Juma Harvard Kennedy School of Government, originally from Science and Innovation for Development by Conway and Waage

6. Because of my early years and deep commitment to Africa, I have been developing a concept that is designed to use the Canadian experience and to help African universities build their research capacity. The idea is to find the funding to help African universities build their capacity to identify and take steps to solve the problems they have identified. as needing priority attention. The concept is to fund African Research Chairs to be held at African universities This would help them to make a start on dealing with the brain drain problem. The brain drain problem in African universities is truly profound. There are more Malawian doctors in Manchester than there are in Malawi.

7. I have met with many organizations around the world but particularly in Africa. These include the United Nations, the African Union, the African Development Bank, the Association of African Universities, Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, Association of Commonwealth Universities, La Francophonie, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the EU, OECD, and UNESCO. I have met with senior officials in several countries including France, the United States, Germany, Canada, Japan and several others. And of course I have met with representatives of several African countries and consulted with many African university vice chancellors. There is very wide support for the idea of building capacity in African universities to tackle the issues represented by the Millennium Development Goals.

8. What I hear over and over again is very strong support for the idea of building Africa’s research capacity and building an African base to deal with African problems. They are seeking investment in capacity for the longer term, rather than aid for short term projects. From this base of amplified capacity, they can then approach potential partners in the developed world. The new approach that they seek is investment, so that they can be in a position to follow their own agenda and seek the partnerships on an equal footing. In other words, they are fully aware of the issues that need to be addressed and would like to be asked where they see the priorities, rather than be by told by the various aid agencies what their priorities should be. There is a universal demand to build capacity, so they can enter the competitive world of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for development.

9. The most frequent concern I hear over and over again, is about the UK positions and the role of DFID. DFID they report shows very little interest in higher education and research and in particular shows essentially no interest in helping developing countries build capacity. It seems from my many sources, that DFID and the UK have not yet crossed the line from aid to investment and remain patronizing in their approach to the developing world.

10. I have just been in South Africa which is one of the fast emerging economies. They have already taken steps to create a program of South African research chairs modeled on the Canadian experience. South Africa has created a program of 200 chairs as a major step to ensure they can keep their best researchers and/or attract good people from the diaspora or indeed from other jurisdictions.

11. I applaud the Committee’s thinking to look afresh at the UK approach to the investment needed by developing countries. Helping to build the long term capacity of the developing world, will give a lot more benefit to helping them participate in the 21st century, with its focus on the knowledge economy.

"The suggested concept is a timely and very worthwhile initiative and I would be pleased to lend my support towards strengthening African faculties and reversing the continent’s brain drain". Kofi Annan, former secretary-general, United Nations .

David Strangway PhD, FRSC, OC

Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

15 December 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011