Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the British Council (Int Dev 18)


1. It is important to have effective coordination amongst UK funders of international development in relation to scientific capacity building. In this context, DFID works with the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) which is a partnership between Government departments, the Research Councils, the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust. UKCDS also runs a research capacity strengthening group, which has an expanded membership including the Royal Society, the British Academy and the British Council. This group provides a useful forum for sharing information and knowledge, and could be used more in the future to encourage closer collaboration amongst UK funders.

2. Another useful cross-Whitehall group, which also includes learned academies and the British Council, is the Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF). GSIF leads on the strategy for the UK’s international engagement in science and innovation which covers four key areas: research, innovation, influence and development. We see the latter as being a critical component of the UK’s international strategy and we would recommend a consistent focus on this, together with a strong DFID presence at the group meetings of core officials. The group would benefit from regular development-related items, perhaps bringing in specialist expertise from relevant DFID sector advisors as appropriate.

3. The UK’s international strategy and initiatives in this area also benefit from effective coordination between international donors, such as other national governments and global foundations. Co-ordination at a country level would also be beneficial, to avoid duplication of effort and maximise synergy. This is best delivered in-country by a strong national body and DFID should consider how best to support target-country governments in order to achieve this. There are already good examples of coordination between DFID and others, for example their work with IDRC and the Wellcome Trust to deliver needs-driven support in the Health Research Capacity Strengthening Initiatives in Malawi and Kenya.

Environment for research:

4. For science and technology to be an effective tool for development, there is a need to build a supportive environment for research, beyond working with individual researchers and research groups. In key target countries DFID should consider how best to support scientific infrastructure, including strengthening national research bodies (e.g. research councils, national science foundations) which are independent of short term political influence, have secured long-term funding, and are able to define and set priorities, and assess and monitor the quality of in-country research.

5. Ensuring a stable and openly competitive career structure for young researchers is also a vital part of building national capacity. Linked to this is the need to enable researchers in developing country institutions to participate in the global scientific community, through supporting short-term mobility and developing specialist communication skills. British Council’s INSPIRE project is an example of this, where we support mobility of researchers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. We have also piloted ‘English for Researchers’ modules in the wider South Asia region to support communication skills.

6. Another important aspect of building an effective research environment relates to developing public understanding and communication on science and research. British Council uses a modest amount of grant funding (approximately £80,000) to run the FameLab International, a partnership with Cheltenham Science Festival, which builds communication skills in young scientists and inspires an interest in science amongst the wider community. FameLab currently runs in 21 countries, including Egypt, Georgia, Serbia and South Africa.

Evidence-based policy making:

7. DFID funded research can often be used by decision-makers to inform policy on global issues such as health, agriculture and energy. However, sometimes there is a gap between research outputs and their use as evidence in policy-making. DFID has a strong track record in making connections between research and policy development and should build on this success to continue bridging the gap between scientists and research users. The involvement of local stakeholders, including the private sector, local communities, civil society organisations, the scientific community and government, is vital to this process.


8. DFID has supported innovation through its funding of research consortia and capacity building. In developing countries, the private sector has the potential to be a driver of innovation. In addition, innovation often comes out of demand rather than supply-driven research. Recognising that DFID may not have the capacity to work with a proliferation of individual researchers, it would be beneficial to explore organisational mechanisms for stimulating innovative research of this nature. In knowledge economy work, models exist for linking SMEs with the research base. Here, too, it is recognised that the organisational mechanisms for coordination would have to be put in place for DFID to engage with SMEs in bridging the gap between the research base and small scale business. British Council runs the African Knowledge Transfer Partnership (AKTP) scheme to link business and the knowledge base through talented individuals; this initiative is based on the UK Knowledge Transfer Partnerships scheme (run by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board). AKTP is now running in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and starting up in Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia


9. There needs to be a strong sense of ownership by southern partners in research partnerships. In the Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE) [1] programme, which British Council manages, this is rated highly. DelPHE is a DfID funded initiative which runs from 2006 – 2013, with a total budget of £15 million. The aim of DelPHE is to strengthen the capacity of higher education institutions (HEIs) to contribute towards the MDGs and promote science and technology related knowledge and skills.

10. 200 projects have been funded to date with an average project budget of around £65,000 over three years. DelPHE fits with core DFID themes in contributing towards each MDG. The majority of funding is allocated to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and ensuring environmental sustainability.

11. Capacity development of HEIs covers two main activity areas: (i) researchers themselves through collaborative research and product development, preferably with a partner with significantly greater research capacity; and (ii) improved training provision in order to enhance the knowledge and skills of students and other target groups, including groups in the wider community. DelPHE runs in the 22 countries with which DFID has public service agreements (PSA countries).

12. DFID aid is untied so other northern HEI partners have been able to participate in the DelPHE programme and South-South partnerships (with no UK institutional involvement) have been actively encouraged and promoted. Uniquely therefore, DelPHE has 22 South-South partnerships where there is no UK partner involved. These result in cross country and cross regional collaboration and also give total ownership to the Southern partners. This supports national ownership as stated in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

13. Southern Universities benefit from DelPHE through the improvement in their academic capacity by managing partnership finances and leading on partnership implementation. They are able to establish a credible track record to secure future funding from donors and share knowledge and best practice across their regions as they modernise their curricula in a way that is relevant in the fast changing world of today. There are also benefits for Southern Governments as they use the research and academic expertise of their HE sector to influence and stimulate policy debate and pursue achievement of Millennium Development Goal targets.

14. UK HEIs still benefit from these as such partnerships strengthen research leadership in developing countries which lead to stronger mutual partners in the future. Additionally, DelPHE improves UK HEIs international profile, which may lead to increased international student recruitment. Some UK partners have also reinforced their position as world leaders in a variety of science and technology related fields in for example, agriculture and health. DelPHE also supports 68 multi-lateral projects which have all increased scalability, value for money, cross regional working, international sharing of best practice, lessons learnt and networking.

Declaration of Interests

In 2010-11, the British Council’s overall turnover was £693 million, with funding from a variety of sources. Just under a third (28 per cent or £196 million) came as government grants. The largest proportion (56 per cent or £387 million) came from selling services such as English language courses and examinations, and from management fees and other partnership income. We also received about £4 million in other income and £105 million in restricted income (funding from contract activity) for running programmes for the UK Government and the European Union. In this respect our main declaration of interest is the management of the DFID funded DelPHE programme.

British Council

16 December 2011

[1] See Mid-term Review of the DFID Development Partnerships in Higher Education Programme

[1] (DelPHE) , Terry Allsop and Paul Bennell, October 2010, DFID Human Development Resource Centre 276252 .

Prepared 22nd December 2011