Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling (Int Dev 16)

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

1.1 The linking of earmarked support for developing science capacity in developing countries has declined markedly over the last 10 years. UK Government contributions to multilateral programmes including EC FP7 –INCODEV has disappeared and now international partners can only be included in a relatively small number of projects which have a focus on ‘value for Europe’ rather than any specific focus on capacity development for LDCs. Direct support for capacity building from DFID is no longer accessible by many UK HE institutions.

1.2 Previous forms of DFID support included the RNRRS programme (Renewable Natural Resource Research Strategy) which are now discontinued. The network developed during that era in which locally contextualised research was carried out in partnership with local academic and development partners, endures mainly through individuals who were trained to PhD level at that time and are now active in their organisations. Critically the scientific focus of their research was identified in their own country and significant periods of time were typically spent there in terms of conducting research with periods in the UK to analyse and report. Another feature of their training was the flexibility that encouraged learning between countries and individuals through cross visits between countries involved in the research.

1.3 Current funding appears to be directed towards the Research Councils and initiatives such as the UK Collaborative on Development Science. Since the formation of this organisation in 2007 it ‘ has improved communication amongst members and stakeholders, helped form collaborations and raised awareness of development sciences’ .This is a useful mission but the profile appears to be very limited.

1.4 For DFID-funded Research Council programmes which target the highest quality academic outputs, partnership with LDC organisations is required, as are well developed impact pathways for successful submissions but there is only minor emphasis placed on local capacity building. These mechanisms currently lack key attributes for building long term scientific capacity in LDCs.

1.5 It is unclear how DFID views the challenges of developing the science capacity of low and medium income countries. This is important as numerically, medium income countries have larger numbers of poorer people but are likely to have very different resource profiles.

1.6 Support for British Council managed initiatives such as PMI2/DelPHE and other programmes appear ad hoc and typically restrict involvement of core University staff rather than younger contract staff that may have much to offer (such support usually does not cover UK employed staff employment).

1.7 DFID supports training of high calibre candidates from Commonwealth countries through provision of scholarships for training in the UK and distance learning. Both of these are very small investments but we have evidence for the strong development impact of the latter for programmes designed to support the learning of those employed in the Natural Resource sector. The programme in question had an interdisciplinary, problem analysis approach at its heart and used a range of innovative approaches to independent learning that supported students in challenging work and home circumstances.

1.8 A key challenge is to ensure development effectiveness post-training; our experience is that continued availability of mentorship and other support can really improve their longer term impacts. One model of such post education support is the Swedish- funded International Foundation for Science (IFS) that provides small grants to develop the of independent capacity of developing country scientists. DFID is a contributor to this organisation

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

2.1 Linking individuals and institutions in long term collaborations with UK institutions through a range of measures rather than the current reliance on ad hoc short term projects would be a far more effective approach.

2.2 Ensuring that a comprehensive understanding of the development context precedes identification of specific training and research activities is critical and a focus on split-site training where at least part of the research is conducted in the students own country are to be recommended. This has implications for both the cost and time for such training and how UK institutions administer such studentships.

2.3 Making the research ‘fit’ with the needs of the country also needs greater attention-this requires that research programmes develop capacity to adequately assess research and development needs and to ensure they match with the training specifications for students embarked on expensive postgraduate programmes. These should pay reference to the MDGs and the poverty assessments of the country themselves and multinational agencies.

2.4 Time and resource is required for developing high quality collaborations with organisations in LDCs. Collaborations need opportunities for younger people from both the UK and LDCs to become involved. Strengthened links between theory and practice at all levels are required. Internships for undergraduates and postgraduate students with the constituency that they will return to serve should become the norm.

2.5 Improved linkages between degree awarding institution in the UKs and CGIAR centres could be strengthened cost effectively. Effective working relationships are often undermined by constraints to funding for university fees (for example under EU FP7 rules) for high calibre individuals working on projects between institutions.

2.6 Opportunities for collaboration between the HE and FE sectors in the UK and organisations in LDCS should be prioritised. The FE and vocational sectors are typically underfunded and have low profiles in LDCs and yet their roles are critical in developing practical skills, typically ignored by universities.

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

3.1 Simplistic analyses of ‘effectiveness’ are unlikely to be useful and our understanding of impacts is in general poor. Many of the development impacts that result from scientific capacity being built (through investments in capacity building or any other) in poorer countries are indirect and occur over long periods of time. In best case scenarios there are powerful multipliers/secondary impacts that need to be assessed in addition to primary effects. Case studies of recipients of previous training/research investment would be useful in terms of identifying the level and quality of these impacts. ‘Best’ and ‘worst’ cases would hopefully allow better targeting (of organisations and individuals) and more programme design.

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

No comment

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

No comment

School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling

16 December 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011