“A great many African countries had shown steady economic growth in the decade prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But all have failed to adequately create opportunities for the young people in their countries. With growing youth populations, creating paths for education and employment is a make or break issue for the continent.
In today’s knowledge economy, university students carry a key role in development. They are therefore an important group to study and understand better.”
My study on migration aspirations of university students in Ghana showed there were indeed interest in going abroad for at least on year, especially for studies. However a majority of respondents also wanted to return, and some (8%) also were not at all interested in living abroad. My main point in the article is that knowing the dreams and aspirations of young people is important in policy planning.
Similarly, a New African Magazine article series African Youth Speaks made room for African youth to speak their truth with the following motivation
“It is the responsibility of the older, more mature segment of a society to prepare the ground for the youth to thrive by providing quality education, training, mentoring, guidance, encouragement, sympathy and love and affection to the young, who have their own growing-up demons to deal with in addition to other forms of personal development. If this is lacking, the youth are cast adrift. “
“I had started my music studio in July 2019. As with any other business, the first 5-6 months were awful, and I could barely break even. Like many other Kenyan young entrepreneurs, I was looking for loans, but nobody really supports a start-up.
With the new restrictions, which included the need to ‘work from home’, things changed quite rapidly. As a music producer, I had to have the artist in the studio physically. With the curfew laws, I lost all my clients.”
When this happened, I was one of the people Wachira called as he is an old student of mine. We talked about possible solutions in the meantime and he started applying for jobs. In the special Issue, Wachira admirably writes:
“After a few months of applying for jobs and getting rejected, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a hybrid business plan that allows me to either work with artists on site or online. I am still working hard to sustain the business, but I can say one thing for sure: my dream did not die. It just got better, and I will keep looking for ways to survive in this new normal. “
Wachira’s personal conclusion is similar to the findings of my research, that African youth are not “opting out” by migrating. Rather they are craving opportunities and making deliberate plans to be able to contribute and build at home.
Recently, I attended a webinar on the state of open access in Africa where I had a particular use of every presentation, focusing on support for early-career researchers like myself. See my notes with links below. The program was organized by the Training Center in Communication and led by its founding director Joy Owango. After the webinar, I made an interview with Joy Owango and will share some of the highlights of out 45-minute call, but I have cut out our children in both Kenya and Sweden joining us!
What is Training Centre in Communication, (TCC Africa )?
We are a center that supports researchers’ in increasing their research output through training in scholarly and science communication. In addition to this we host monthly thought leadership webinars on capacity building for early career researchers with a focus on open science.
In the beginning, the focus of the center was supporting researchers communicating among themselves, particularly how to write academic papers that could be understood at multidisciplinary levels. Within five years, we broadened the scope and started supporting researchers on how to communicate with non-scientists, even as we are going through this process, I increasingly noted the challenges early career researchers faced in the process of academic publishing.
Before we start crucifying researchers about not being able to write, we need to ask, how are they getting resources for their research discovery? Just by answering this question, our model transformed, which, included providing open access discovery solutions to support their research lifecycle. We do not just offer training, but also advisory services, where we guide institutions on how to set up research and grant offices and also guide governments on ways they can improve on monitoring their research output especially with the support of open data. Before the COVID19 Pandemic hit Africa, we were in Malawi and guided the Government of Malawi through the National Commission of Science and Technology on how they can use Scientometrics and open access data in monitoring research output from the country.
2. What is your funding model?
We are a not for profit organization with a self-sustainable business model, where we charge for our services, and as a result, funding is one of the revenue streams.
3. Do you apply for grants?
Yes, we compete for grants as well, however, it is not our main revenue stream, as it comes with the objectives of the donor and rarely in line with our objectives as such we work with donors who support early career researchers regardless of research background in improving their research output. As a result of this, the donors we have chosen to work with support multidisciplinary research backgrounds and are not restricted to the research interest areas of the African continent (namely research in, health, agriculture, and climate change). This decision was deliberate and 15 years later, we have survived and are self-sustainable. We have seen programs similar to ours come and go as they are 100% reliant on funding and we did not want that as we wanted a more sustainable approach to supporting early career researchers in improving their research output through training.
4. What do you see as the most important issues for higher education on the continent?
Open Science. In its totality from data, infrastructure to academic publishing. Open science is the glue that holds together good quality scientific output from research discovery, academic publishing to dissemination. When a researcher is unable to complete his research due to paywalls, you understand their academic fatigue. Taking a postgraduate course is not easy and limited access to resources to conduct your research can be very frustrating. It was because of the frustrations and academic fatigue I noted in researchers we trained that we thought of getting research industry partners, who supported open science. So when we tell researchers, “you need to be involved in the process of scholarly communication”, it is really the whole research life cycle, from research idea, writing the paper, and the whole process behind it, that helps you write that paper!
5. You founded TCC already in 2006, what is your own journey to where you are now?
From experience, I remember in the early 2000s’ I was studying for a postgraduate certificate in Mass communication research and the only library in Nairobi that had the latest resources in my research area was at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). For five days I sat in that library until 8 pm when they shut down, I would sit outside until midnight as I needed access to the library Wi-Fi and the resources. Fortunately, ILRI is within a campus full of early career researchers, so no one bothered me. This was a typical scenario that early career researchers may face in pursuit of resources for their research discovery process.
If your own university does not have subscriptions to the journals you need, as a student, you are stranded. Even then, I did not understand how bad it was until I got to work with Clarivate Analytics, then Thomson Reuters, and I was like “hold on! this is what I have been asking for… Access to data. But all the good data is behind a paywall!”
When we are talking about open access it is not just journals, it is the whole system! It’s not just “Oh, I want the full-text journal!”, no, it is the research discovery system that needs to be open. I understand there is a business model to it, but it needs to be open because a majority of self-sponsored researchers who may not have adequate support systems fall through the cracks and are unable to complete their education due to lack of resources. In essence, open science democratizes education.
My own reflections from the seminar are that sitting in the middle of the information age exploding, it is easy to just get tired and not research well where you “host” your research, however, it is as important as ever. All the links I shared above are mindblowing in their own way, it is actually as exciting as it is tiring! But you need to understand how to make your research visible and readable to the constituencies you write for! As Joy shared, open access publications in the last two years are many (44%) and growing fast from Africa, however not all fields are well-represented.
The movement toward open science is in a way a “going back” to the foundations of science – sharing progress for the common good – and public and private funders are now going back to this ideal. As a researcher believing in the public good of science, I believe all of us have a responsibility to publish our data and findings open access.
As the horrible events at the Westgate mall in Nairobi still unfold, I want to highlight the impressive use of social media by Kenyan authorities like the police and ministry of interior. Many can learn from them!
My friend Emilie pointed me to the This Is Africa site. It is a spanking fresh culture site that trumpets “Africa for a new generation!” and sports subheadlines like “city life”, “music” and “art&fashion”.
From Graham, I got the tip about Ghana’s Members of Parliament having been assessed in an Political Performance Index performed by the African Watch Magazine.
Out of the 230 parliamentarians, 24 received F’s. Others received As and Bs. There were also Cs and Ds. See the full list of grades for Ghanaian MPs here. From a teacher’s point of view, I know that grades sometimes create “learning moments” – reflection and insight could come out of a low grade. This seem to not have happened here. This morning, some of the politicians are lashing out on the grading exercise.
One Member of Parliament that was upset was, Honourable Abayatei from Sege constituency (rated ‘C’), he said to Citi News:
“they sit down and talk rubbish and write rubbish. If they have no work to do, they must shut up…What right has he got to grade us? What assessment has he got the right to do? …Those of you in the Media must call your friends to be sensible. Criteria don’t even come in because he has no right. Worldwide has there been any grading of any Parliament?”
It seems the rating has been done by independent professionals looking at several criteria. According to Ghanamma it was “MP’s Knowledge of Law Making and the Constitution”, “Participation in Legislative Business”, “Contribution to Parliamentary Debates”, “How The Ideas and Suggestions of MPs Reflect Societies Need” and “Interest and Tolerance of Divergent Political Views”. Although this might not be the best and fairest rating, I applaud this survey.
And this is why I think MPs should also be grateful for their grades:
1. The parliament is weak in Ghana, the only way of getting more power is getting more public support, then we need to see you are working.
2. You were probably rated high in the public eye. Only yesterday, the news of laptop computers with Internet connections being given to MPs was shared (following the car loan etc.), and Ghanaians were heard muttering about not having water in their houses. That’s an F grade the Ghanaian people have given to you already (although I personally think the laptops was the best investment the Government of Ghana could do at this point, but that is another post, I guess).
3. Discussion and information sharing should be encouraged by politicians so that you who work hard stand out and get reelected. Someone has done your work for you!
4. It is a PR opportunity. Maybe you initiated something we haven’t heard of, this is your chance to inform us!
5. A hardworking MP loves accountability. Do you really want to share benches with people who do not do their part?
On this note, I have for some time been thinking about how to introduce something similar to Mzalendo, The Eye on the Kenya Parliament. It is a website that publishes information on MPs and their parties. There are also sections for what MPs do; questions, motions and bills they are involved in hence “grading” can be done by the Kenyan people using the facts available. Through such an innovative parliament watch, we can judge for ourselves.
Now with such information available, it would be easier to do a fair assessment. But regardless of that and regardless if a politician feels we have the “right” to do so, we will grade MPs performance.