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An Analytical Note on “Higher Education Science, Technology and Innovation, Research and Development (R&D) and Entrepreneurship in Africa”

Project Duration:  August 2020 – February 2021
Grantor:  AfDB (African Development Bank)
Contacts: Dr. Nicholas Ozor, Executive Director, ATPS
Contact Email:
Project Director: Dr. Nicholas Ozor
Project Value: USD 83,000

Project Description/Background

With huge unemployment figures in Africa (World Bank, 2020); mismatch between skills supply and demand; a disconnect between higher education (HE) and industry; a gap between HE and technical, entrepreneurial, vocational education and training (TEVET) institutions; low enrolment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with further bias against women and girls; and the limited Africa’s contribution to scientific publications occasioned by the decline in STEM research, Africa faces huge challenges in meeting the sustainable development goals, the Agenda 2063 and the different national development Plans and Visions of its Regional Member Countries (RMCs). This situation is exacerbated by the current ravaging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore calls for urgent actions by relevant stakeholders to reverse this trend towards reskilling Africa’s workforce with demand-driven science and technological skills in line with the fourth industrial revolution, strengthening the relevance of research and development (R&D) to industry, and building resilient enterprises that can weather economic shocks and pivot businesses to models that meet the changing demand of the current market. The African Development Bank (AfDB) as one of the key stakeholders in this sector has taken the bull by the horns to champion the sustenance of technological innovation, entrepreneurship development, and scientific research and development for economic transformation in Africa. This is evident in their many supports to the RMCs but most specifically in the Bank’s Ten-Year Strategy 2013-2022 (TYS), the Bank’s High 5 priorities and particularly the Bank’s Human Capital Strategy for Africa (HCS) 2014-2018 and the Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy (JfYA) 2016-2025. In its further commitment to support the RMCs even the more, the Bank is preparing an analytical note on “Skills development for employability, productivity and sustainable livelihoods” and has developed some Terms of Reference (TOR) against key priority areas and cross-cutting issues to that effect. 

Key Priority Areas

1. Training Infrastructure

This priority area aims to provide a deep dive on the current state, gaps and emerging infrastructure needs for higher education, science, technology and innovation (HESTI) and R&D for socioeconomic transformation in Africa. The ‘new normal’ brought about by factors such as the COVID-19 makes the Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure inevitable for the realization of the objectives of this priority as the pandemic rapidly transforms various sectors including transitioning learning to virtual platforms, disrupting supply chains and catalyzing digital commerce across the continent. Other support infrastructure such as power, equipment/ facilities, laboratories, etc. are considered.

Training infrastructure is an important aspect towards upscaling HESTI, R&D and entrepreneurship development in Africa. The lack of modern training infrastructure in most African higher education and research institutions have denied Africans the chance to grow its economic prospects and opportunities thereby depriving the youth of career opportunities in the job market. Many African countries have relapsed in STEM development compared with other developed countries.  There are significant shortages of human resources in the STEM fields especially women coupled with the lack of access to electricity, poor ICT and internet access, and other modern equipment needed to support HESTI, R&D and entrepreneurship development in Africa. Investing in training infrastructure would lead to production of a generation of young professionals who can take charge in developing their countries. As such, there is need to build and rehabilitate existing training infrastructure and most importantly by linking HESTI, R&D and entrepreneurship development to the productive sector.

This section seeks to understand what the current state of ICT is in Africa, what can be done to accelerate growth of STEM, entrepreneurship and R&D. At the end of the analyses, it will provide insight on areas that the Bank will provide unique assistance for maximum impact.

2. Financing

This priority area aims to provide evidence and insights on the current state of financing, gaps and innovative mechanism to finance HESTI and R&D in Africa. The financing gaps witnessed in Africa’s HESTI and R&D cause a major challenge in meeting its education and skill needs. With low investments in higher education and research and development witnessed in most African countries since 1980’s Lagos Plan of Action, outputs from HESTI and R&D have not met the desired expectations in terms of skills, productivity, employment and sustainable livelihoods. In many African countries, more than half of the investments in education are internationally funded as such, puts the continent strategically in a disadvantaged position as we cannot dictate our own contextualized paths with donor funds. There is therefore need for institutions and countries to look for new approaches to improve funding in research and innovation (Ozor, 2015). Several financing models have been crafted to spur growth of technological innovations that are needed to contribute and support HESTI and R&D in creating employability, skills and productivity in the labour market.

This section of the report will provide evidence and insights on the current state of financing, gaps and innovative mechanism to finance HESTI, R&D and Entrepreneurship development in Africa in meeting the desired objectives.

3. Governance

This priority area seeks to assess the policy environment, curriculum, management and administration, and underlying social issues (such as inclusion, gender) in the HESTI and R&D arena. The slogan that ‘policy/politics is superior to science’ underscores the need to provide an enabling ecosystem for HESTI and R&D activities to thrive in Africa. However poor governance structures and ineffective policies currently in place in most African countries do not support HESTI, R&D and entrepreneurship development in producing competent skilled human capital for employment, increased productivity and sustainable livelihoods. The education systems and workforce development strategies and policies in place are in need of reforms (AFDB, 2019). Issues to do with gender balance, curriculum management and administration need to be streamlined in a way that support skills development.

Cross Cutting Issues

1. Gender equality and equity in access to Higher Education Science and Technology

This section will seek to understand how the Bank would support STEM and increase the number of women in STEM; which form of policy or /infrastructure will be needed to support women among others. This will be based on information and best practices from Africa or other parts of the world. The section will evaluate the relevance of the Bank’s biennial STI forum and ways to improve it.  Particularly, AFDB STI projects that have been initiated as result of this forums will be evaluated

2. Harnessing HESTI and R&D to leapfrog technology innovation and entrepreneurship

This section will evaluate best ways of positioning universities to be excellent centres of development through provision of skills needed to leapfrog technology advancement and accelerated innovation for economic growth.

3. Enhancing flexibility and responsiveness of HESTI, R&D and Entrepreneurship development

In this section, the study seeks to answer how to institutionalize exchange programmes in HESTI and R&D within and outside Africa to promote knowledge circulation and partnerships.

4. Linking HESTI, R&D and Entrepreneurship development to productive sector

This section seeks to evaluate how knowledge exchange mechanisms such as co-location, R&D and collaboration would promote HESTI and R&D linkages with the industry.  It will also examine approaches and lessons on how entrepreneurship can be mainstreamed as key outcomes of HESTI and R&D.

5. Regional centers of excellence, regional networks of knowledge and research

This section will examine successes and failures among the regional centres of excellence and the regional networks of knowledge and research in Africa with a view to repositioning them for better performance in HESTI, R&D and Entrepreneurship development.

Project Outputs/Deliverables 

Revised HESTI Full Report.


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