Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the
Royal Society of Chemistry (Int Dev 13)

1. The RSC is the largest organisation in Europe for advancing the chemical sciences. Supported by a network of 47,000 members worldwide and an internationally acclaimed publishing business, its activities span education and training, conferences and science policy, and the promotion of the chemical sciences to the public.

2. RSC Publishing is one of the largest publishers of chemical science information in the world. The RSC as a whole employs approximately 400 staff across the globe. The majority of staff are located in located in Cambridge and London (UK), although the RSC also has offices in Philadelphia (USA), Tokyo (Japan), Beijing and Shanghai (China) and Bangalore (India). RSC Publishing is a not-for-profit publisher wholly owned by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Committed to advancing the chemical sciences, any surplus is reinvested in supporting the global scientific community. 

3. This document represents the views of the RSC. The RSC has a duty under its Royal Charter "to serve the public interest" by acting in an independent advisory capacity, and it is in this spirit that this submission is made.

4. The RSC believes that

· Addressing educational provision in developing nations is a key part of building and sustaining scientific capacity, as it ensures the development of a skilled workforce for scientific research.

· Partners in the developed world can provide valuable opportunities for knowledge exchange and resources to support research capacity in the developing world. However, it should be scientists in the developing world who determine the focus for joint research activities.

· Coordination between government activities and work in other sectors could help to build research capacity more efficiently, addressing the needs of research according to discipline.

1. How does the UK Government support scientific capacity building in developing countries and how should it improve?

5. The UK government supports capacity building in developing countries through funding joint research programmes that bring together researchers in developed and developing countries. These programmes, funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), focus upon research areas where there is a clear link to poverty reduction and/or economic growth in the developing nation. These research partnerships focus on solutions to problems in areas such as agriculture, health and governance.

6. These partnerships can produce direct benefit through the research outputs generated, but they also provide valuable opportunities for knowledge transfer between partners in different countries. It is important to ensure that scientists in the developing world, who are part of these partnerships, are enabled to take a strong role in determining what the most appropriate research solutions for the issues facing their country are. Their partners in developed nations may be best placed to provide resources to help reach these research goals but there needs to be a stronger emphasis in encouraging scientists in developing nations to take ownership of these projects.

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

7. Models and mechanisms for development must address ‘research capacity’ in the broadest sense. Joint research programmes to help build research capacity are important. However, programmes that target supporting aspects such as science education (ensuring a supply of adequately trained people), infrastructure (access to specialist equipment) and advocacy (increasing government engagement with scientists) are also areas that need to be addressed.

8. In 2007, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and Syngenta embarked on a £1 million, five-year project, the Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN). [1] The remit of the PACN is wide-reaching and ambitious, given current national and global challenges. The RSC’s Chemistry for Tomorrow’s World [2] has identified 41 of these challenges and the contribution of the chemical sciences in providing solutions to these. Whilst all of these challenges are outlined in a global context, some challenges such as those relating to food security, energy demand and water supply, are more pertinent to developing nations. The main aim is to enable African scientists from across the continent to communicate more effectively and find sustainable solutions ultimately to tackle these urgent problems. PACN works in collaboration with national chemical societies from across Africa to achieve this.

9. To date, two centres of excellence in Chemical Sciences have been established, one in Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) and one in Kenya (Nairobi). These provide a focal point for the training of scientists from across the region and are furnished with specialist equipment to facilitate this. Workshops to train researchers in each country, and even neighbouring countries, in key chemical analysis techniques, such the use of gas chromatograph-mass spectrometry instruments (GC-MS) provide an active opportunity for researchers to develop their analytical skills.

10. The PACN has coordinated national and international meetings on relevant scientific issues across the continent, such as water quality, sustainable development and agricultural productivity. These meetings provide an opportunity for scientists from across Africa to network and exchange knowledge with others. In addition, output reports from these meetings have been produced which highlight the potential for chemical science research in developing nations. These reports have been disseminated to policy makers not just in Africa, but globally. The report Africa’s Water Quality: A Chemical Science Perspective [3] was launched on World Water Day in March 2010 at the United Nations Environment Programme Headquarters in Nairobi. In 2010, PACN brought together experts to discuss the area of green chemistry, sustainable technologies and their development and adoption in Africa. The findings from the conference were published in the report Wealth Not Waste: Green Science and Engineering for Sustainable Growth in Africa, [4] which was launched at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Committee on Development Information, Science and Technology in May 2011. The 2011 Congress, which took place between 11-13 November, focussed on the topic of Agricultural Productivity; the proceedings of this congress will also be collated into a report.

11. Knowledge exchange is an important part of building research capacity via researchers themselves. The PACN has funded schemes that have allowed African researchers to undertake research fellowships of up to 2 months, within a university research department or in industry in other parts of the world. One of these fellowships has generated an active collaboration between a researcher in Cameroon and the department which hosted him in Brazil, meaning that such initiatives can lead to long-term research benefits.

12. Education is a cornerstone to building research capacity. Equipping countries to train their next generation of researchers is essential. Since its inception, the PACN has carried out a number of programmes to help build teaching capacity at different educational levels. These have included programmes supplying educational resources such as Access to Chemistry, a foundation textbook, which is available online in all schools and universities across Africa. The PACN has organised several activities to support education, including teacher training workshops in Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. It is important that such initiatives address the specific issues that face the teaching communities’ in these countries. A recent Experimental Chemistry Training Workshop, held at Addis Ababa University, helped teachers to develop key skills in practical chemistry and also showed how to use these to carry out experiments on a modest budget. To ensure that such capacity building is sustainable, the RSC has run training courses for teachers in Africa with an emphasis on ‘training the trainers’. This allows our programme of activities to reach a wider audience and ensures that such knowledge is embedded within the community it needs to serve. With limited resources, the PACN must focus its efforts to specific activities. However, the success of the programme means that the RSC is embarking on further fundraising to extend the reach of successful activities.

13. The concerted approach of building research capacity through education, opportunities for knowledge exchange, infrastructure and advocacy (highlighting the role of chemistry to African policy makers) is essential to the success of the network. It has helped to raise the number of opportunities available to chemists across the continent, as well as the profile of the role chemistry has to play in developing solutions in Africa.

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

14. One consideration in the further assessment of Government scientific capacity building is to examine this in relation to similar capacity building work in other sectors (see paragraphs 17 and 18 in question 5) and establish where collaboration may be beneficial.

4. What role does DfID’s Chief Scientific Adviser play in determining priorities and in the development and assessment of capacity building policies?

15. No comment

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

16. Currently, the RSC does not formally co-ordinate with government activities in international development. We would, however welcome the opportunity to engage with government strategies via the Department for International Development (DfID) in our capacity building activities.

17. Better coordination between government via DfID and UK charities and private sector that work in building science, technology and innovation capacity could help deliver benefits more efficiently and effectively reach many more people. Organisations such as the RSC that have initiated links with scientists in developing countries can provide information on the issues surrounding capacity building in specific disciplines. Within chemistry, access to appropriate specialist equipment is critical; however programmes to train scientists in both the maintenance, as well as the use, of such equipment is essential. This has already been initiated via the PACN two Centres of Excellence in Chemical Sciences (see paragraph 8).

18. Better coordination with government activities would mean being able to build on successful programmes that help to further the RSC’s aims and objectives and complement DfID’s strategy. Chemistry as a discipline is a key contributor to a number of the research themes that are covered by the Research for Development Programme. [5] The programmes described above (paragraphs 8 – 11) that contribute to supporting chemistry education and developing the skills of scientists will ensure that researchers are equipped to contribute to Africa’s research base.

19. The government’s role in helping to develop the appropriate supporting climate to allow science and technology to drive economic growth in developing countries is essential. An analysis of how to rebalance capacity in governance in developing countries against capacity in science and technology could be useful to determine future priorities for the UK government in their science development activities overseas.

Royal Society of Chemistry

16 December 2011

[1] -

[2] - Chemistry for Tomorrow's World - A Roadmap for the Chemical Sciences, July 2009

[3] - Africa's Water Quality A Chemical Science Perspective, Pan Africa Chemistry Network, March 2010

[4] - Wealth Not Waste, Green Science & Engineering for Sustainable Growth in Africa, Pan Africa Chemistry Network, April 2011

[5] -


Prepared 22nd December 2011