Strengthening research management and support services in sub-Saharan African universities and research institutions

20 Jul 2020
Justin Pulford, Susie Crossman, Sara Begg, Jessica Amegee Quach, Pierre Abomo, Taghreed El Hajj, Imelda Bates


Background: International development partners and research councils are increasingly funding research management and support (RMS) capacity strengthening initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as part of a broader investment in strengthening national and regional research systems.  However, the evidence-base to inform RMS capacity strengthening initiatives is limited at present. This research note presents a synthesis of 28 RMS capacity assessments completed in 25 universities/research institutions from across 15 SSA countries between 2014 and 2018. 
Methods: All 28 capacity assessments were completed following a standardised methodology consisting of semi-structured interviews conducted with research and research support staff at the respective institution as well as document reviews and observation of onsite facilities. Data were extracted from the 28 reports detailing the findings of each assessment according to a framework synthesis approach.
Results: In total, 13 distinct capacity gap categories emerged from across the 28 RMS capacity assessment reports.  Almost all the institutions assessed faced significant gaps in RMS capacity within and across each of these 13 categories. The 13 categories were not independent of each other and were often closely inter-connected. Commonalities were also evident across multiple categories, the two most obvious of which were severe fiscal constraints and the often-complex bureaucracy of the institutional operating environment.
Conclusions: The synthesis findings reveal multiple, commonly shared RMS capacity gaps in universities and research institutions across SSA. No single intervention type, or focus, would be sufficient to strengthen capacity across all 13 areas; rather, what is needed to facilitate a significant shift in RMS capacity within such SSA universities and research institutions is a combination of interventions, consisting of differing levels of cost and complexity, variously led (or supported) by both internal and external actors.