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Study points to a need for university grant evaluation system

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In order to participate more effectively in bids for funding, particularly from international donors, African universities need to have effective institutional grant evaluation and accountability mechanisms, which many do not yet have, according to Juma Shabani, director of the Doctoral School at the University of Burundi.

Shabani was speaking to University World News in response to the findings of a recent study published by Dr Harris Andoh, postdoctoral research fellow at the Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa, which argues that institutional grant evaluation mechanisms are needed in African universities to track the impact of grants on research projects and educational programmes, to improve performance and ensure better value for money.

The 3 June study was entitled “Evaluating institutional grants at African universities”.

“It is now recognised that all countries in the world must significantly increase the funding allocated to their universities in order to enable them to contribute effectively to the implementation of the sustainable development goals at a national level, mainly, through creation of new knowledge via research,” Shabani said.

“Because many African universities are not able to mobilise locally the resources needed to meet the SDG challenges at national level, they are increasingly required to partner with consortia of universities in order to respond to international calls for proposals,” said Shabani, who is former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa. 

Andoh, who is also a research policy evaluation expert at the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana, told University World News that while government subventions constitute the largest source of funding at African universities and mainly go towards salaries, funds from international donor partners are the other major source of funding for research and, in some cases, for staff development.

“These donations/grants are mainly assessed by auditing the use of the funds and the main output from activities that the grants were intended to be used for,” he said. “The disadvantage of such a system is that it does not ensure a holistic accountability of the use of the grants including research and ethics’ accountability. In addition, it does not assess the whole impact of the grant to the mission, vision of the universities and benefits to stakeholders.”

Proposed framework 

“The proposed grants evaluation framework will assess the key contributions of grants to the core mission of universities; teaching, research and community engagements,” Andoh said. 

The design of the framework should define activities, inputs, performance indicators, deliverables, means of verification, outcomes and outputs and results expected from the use of the grant, according to the study.

“In addition, it will measure the systems of innovations and learning platforms that the grants have produced. Above all, it will measure the change and transformation which grants have produced and the entire system of accountability it has brought to African universities.”

“It will also seek to help simplify but propose coherence in the development of proposals (with detailed logical frameworks to guide the programme implementation and reporting) and concept notes for grants application and donations,” he said. 

“The proposed framework will ensure results of activities undertaken using grants are properly documented and well disseminated to tackle the problem of poor research uptake among African universities,” Andoh indicated. 

Challenges 

On the challenges facing implementation of an institutional grants evaluation framework at African universities, Andoh said: “The major challenge is the autonomous nature of African universities which do not subject themselves to external grants evaluation frameworks.”

“In addition, they do not have established and detailed grants evaluation systems and experts (the critical mass in programme or project evaluation), that can give them expert judgments on the use of grants and its impacts.” 

“There is a need for a framework, which universities can easily adopt and use,” he concluded. 

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