1. University World News

Predatory journals in the firing line (South Africa)

South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has begun clamping down on academics publishing in predatory journals, withholding at least ZAR62 million (US$4.2 million) in subsidies during the 2016-17 academic year, with further action on the cards once a study is completed, according to Mahlubi ‘Chief’ Mabizela, a senior department official. “Predatory publishing is a threat to the credibility of academic publishing worldwide. We withheld 574.86 units and the Rand value for 2016-17 was ZAR108,693 (574.86 units x ZAR108,693 = ZAR62,483,257). However, as much as this is the total amount withheld, it is immediately put in the same budget of the funding distributed to institutions, making the Rand value slightly higher,” said Mabizela, the chief director for university education policy and development in the department. That means, if an institution was affected by a predatory journal publication, it would not receive the units and the money for those units would be redistributed to the entire budget, Mabizela told University World News. He said the department has commissioned the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University to conduct a study on the quality of South Africa’s research publications, which includes predatory publishing. “CREST is finalising the report for submission to the department. The findings and recommendations of the report would be useful to devise strategies for dealing with the journals suspected of being predatory,” according to Mabizela. In their article – the first study to analyse the extent of predatory publishing in South Africa – published in the South African Journal of Science in 2017, Johann Mouton and Astrid Valentine found that 4,246 South African papers published in 48 journals were either probably or possibly predatory. “A few South African studies and reports have appeared in recent years which have suggested that predatory publishing is not only present but is in fact becoming more pervasive – at least in some disciplines. There has been a surge of interest in predatory publishing and its effects in recent years,” the academics wrote.

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  1. University World News

Regional incubators to tap research potential of academics (Africa)

Four of the 24 university-based World Bank Africa Centres of Excellence (ACEs) have been selected as sites for the establishment of regional incubation centres for East and Southern Africa aimed at fostering university-industry links and providing graduate students and faculty with a platform from which to commercialise their research. The centres, based in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, will each receive a US$250,000 from the World Bank as seed funding geared towards turning research findings and innovations into tangible and impactful products and services for the socio-economic development of society in the key areas of industry, agriculture, health, and education/applied statistics. Their establishment is intended to bring academia and industry closer together. The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), a regional facilitation unit for the World Bank-supported Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence (ACE II) Project, selected the four centres from among the 15 that applied. They include the Africa Centre of Excellence in Energy for Sustainable Development (ACEESD) at the University of Rwanda; the Africa Centre for Research, Agricultural Advancement, Teaching Excellence and Sustainability (CREATES) at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania; the Centre for Pharm-Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine (PHARMBIOTRAC) at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda; and the Centre of Excellence in Phytochemicals, Textiles and Renewable Energy (PTRE) based at Moi University, Kenya. Over the five-year duration of the ACE II Project, the centres collectively aim to publish almost 1,500 journal articles, launch more than 300 research collaborations with private sector and other institutions, and produce other academic and research outputs such as patents.  “The World Bank believes strongly in the innovation potential of African research, as a key lever in the continued economic development of the continent, and these incubations centres will serve as important hubs where the impact of research can be transformed to commercial opportunities. We hope these centres will be the first among many to follow,” said Dr Roberta Malee Bassett, senior education specialist at the World Bank and task team leader for the ACE II Project. The IUCEA and the World Bank believe that such incubation centres will also help to build important linkages between academia and industry to help galvanise business growth in priority areas. IUCEA received 15 proposals which were evaluated by an international team of experts with extensive experience in business incubation, start-up creation and successful commercialisation of innovations.

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Universities urged to pursue their own research agendas (Africa)

The time has come for African institutions of higher education to pursue Africa-focused research with real-life impact rather than follow research agendas set by foreign funders. This was the view expressed by Professor James Gashumba, vice-chancellor of Rwanda Polytechnic, who said a lack of research by African institutions was a serious challenge that needed concerted efforts to be addressed. Speaking on the final day of the fifth regional forum for the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) held in Kigali, Rwanda, Gashumba said: “It is a serious challenge that Africa still lags behind in research; most research that is carried out also has the challenge of being dictated by foreign researchers who partner with Africans, and if they don’t understand the topic, they will not support it.” He said the time has come for Africa to stand up and do its own research which would require political will to invest in the sector and in closer partnerships with industry to ensure that more practical skills are acquired. “There is a need for Africa to revolutionise the way courses are delivered in our universities (both technical and higher learning institutions); we need technology and innovations to drive our education and we need to carry out more applied research which addresses our own issues,” he said. The PASET forum, which brought together experts from different fields including academia, focused on the fourth industrial revolution and its opportunities and risks for Africa. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s research report, Africa’s share of global research was 2.6% in 2014. This poor performance is the result of factors such as limited capacity and finance as African Union governments remain slow to deliver on their pledge to increase funding for research. “The research in most of the African countries is quite low; the scientific output is low. Second, there is the issue of lack of sufficient funding,” said Moses Osiru, manager of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), the PASET flagship programme aimed at increasing the number of African PhD holders.“Africa has set a target for at least 1% of countries’ GDP to go to research in science and technology but at present this is not happening; very few countries are meeting this target,” he said. Africa is also faced with the challenge of pursuing research that does not respond to the needs and priorities of the continent. Osiru said many types of research projects are short-term, like three years, whereas what was needed were more long-term projects of up to 20 years or so which have greater impact. He said Africa needed to think about differentiation of higher education. “We need research-intensive universities that can focus on research,” he said.

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Find complete Issue 46 Media Monitoring.Extract for Higher Education news in Africa 46

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