Excerpts from the Capacity Building Workshop Titled Strengthening Multi-disciplinary Research in African Universities

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Excerpts from the Capacity Building Workshop Titled Strengthening Multi-disciplinary Research in African Universities

Date: Thursday 5th August 2021 Venue:    Faculty of Social Sciences Lecture Theatre, University of Lagos.

Opening of Ceremony         

The opening remark was delivered by Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos.

Importance of multidisciplinary approach in winning funded research

Speaker: Prof. Bola Oboh, Director, Research and Innovation office, University of Lagos.  

Prof. Bola Oboh, Director, Research and Innovation office, University of Lagos

Multidisciplinary research is the key to the solution to our various Sustainable Development Goals. It allows us to study a single topic from more than one discipline, thus enhancing the scope and depth of the research. Researchers need to understand how best to harness their protentional to compete for research funding in the contemporary world.   

Multidisciplinary research is important because a problem can have different dimensions. So, coming together to form a team from different discipline allows us solve problems better for the benefit of the society at large. 

Funding agencies are actually aiming at interdisciplinary research. Reviewers are more interested in a research which has a research team. This team must come from different disciplines. Working in a team from different background allows the team to solve the problem from different perspectives. Reviewers will also be willing to fund a multidisciplinary research knowing that it will have a wider reach. They also want return on investment. Hence, multidisciplinary research is one of the ways to go to win those competitive research grants.

In the University of Lagos, the Research and Innovation office constantly encourage research groups that are multidisciplinary so that they could tackle a research area. Currently there are 30 independent research groups that are not attached to any centres yet.  The university also established and supported the establishment of research centres (19 in the university now). There are also research institutes such as the Institute for African and Diaspora studies. 

Multidisciplinary research is the way to go and that is what the university is promoting.  

Key     Note    Speech: Strengthening Multidisciplinary Research in African Universities

Speaker: Prof. Babajide Alo, Distinguished professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Lagos

Prof. Babajide Alo, Distinguished professor of Chemistry, University of Lagos

In present day, there is no other recipe for doing well in this knowledge economy than to conduct research. Socio-economy development in Africa depends on the depth of research done in the continent. Unfortunately, research output in Africa is really low (1.6%) compared to other regions. Hence, there is a desirable need to strengthen multidisciplinary research in African universities. 

Multidisciplinary research (MDR) is a mode of research by teams that integrates information, data, theories, etc., to solve problems that are beyond the perspective of one discipline.   

Drivers of MDR: 

–           Inherent complexity of nature and society 

–           Desire to explore problems that are not confined to a single discipline 

–           Need to solve societal problems

–           Power of new technology

MDR is now becoming the common paradigm of research globally.  It comes from different dimensions. The general objective is to tackle social and environmental problems that are crosscutting. 

Roles of MDR:

–           To increase fundamental understanding of societal issues

–           To help address complex real-world problems

Doing research in silos does not work. MDR builds on the strength of disciplines. There is considerable strength in diversity. 

Challenges of MDR:

–           Finding a common ground for scientists whose approaches to particular scientific problem can differ radically;  

–           The difficulty of the problem tackled, especially the likelihood of the clear-cut or even consensus understandings and solutions;

–           The number of perspectives to combine across the disciplines;

–           End users tend not to agree with the solution the research team is proffering; 

–           Institutional arrangement could pose a major difficulty. It starts with the issue of who is to headquarter the project; 

–           Research units prefer working in silos. Most researchers prefer to work on their own in a bid to show that they own the ideas of the research; – Weak capacity of the researchers.  

–           Research funding and access to top experienced research leaders and experitise.

Factors for strengthening MDR:

–           Disciplinary strength need to be maintained as a foundation for MDR. 

–           There is no one-size fit all approach to initiating research; 

–           There will not be single prescription for success. 

–           You have to work with people who can contribute and who can contribute well to the research.

The primary requirement for a successful MDR is to have a clear-cut research problem. And objective. 

Prerequisite for researchers for a successful MDR: 

–           Capacity building workshop for researchers through postdoctoral fellowships, or sabbaticals or further advanced study in the new field is necessary  

–           Day-to-day interactions in interdisciplinary projects. Home departments must recognize and encourage such interdisciplinary activities.  

However, with this prerequisite, researchers may need to train in two or more disciplines, etc.

Funding towards strengthening MDR:

–           We need to establish a funding mechanism to promote MDR. 

–           It is important to develop mechanisms supporting research addressing the needs of end-users, leading to innovation for both commercial and public goods. 

–           Making untied funding avaiblae to young researchers to allow them pursue ‘wild’ ideas. 

–           Funding an exploratory development phase for interdisciplinary research, preceding a full formal grant application. 

Barriers to MDR funding:

–           Difficulty in sharing the funding across disciplines and universities.   

–           Funding and intellectual property incompatibilities could inhibit collaborations between parties. For example, government research organizations, private industry, etc.  

–           Remedial measures are required in all instances 

There is much to be done to strengthen MDR with roles of government, the full range of funders (including private industry, industry, NGOs, philanthropic individuals or organizations, research organisations, etc. 

To be globally competitive, MDR is sine qua non for success in any research institution.  Researchers should avoid single authorship. Instead, strive to collaborate with other researchers from different disciplines.  

Promoting MDR through the African Research Universities research Alliance

Speaker: Dr Emmanuel Abbey, Project Coordinator, African Research

Universities Alliance – UK Research and Innovation (ARUA-UKRI), University of Ghana 

The alliance has been working tirelessly to promote MDR across different universities and the various the 13 Centres of Excellence (CoE) in the alliance.  MDR has also been promoted through the various postgraduate studies and the African doctoral schools which will be launched soon. 

MDR at Institute of African and diaspora studies (IADS)

Speaker: Prof. Muyiwa falaiye, Director, Institute of African and Diaspora Studies, University of Lagos represented by Dr. Kayode Eesuola, Senior Research Fellow, IADS

Dr. Kayode Eesuola, Senior Research Fellow, IADS

The IDAS has conducted close to 23 research-based projects that are interdisciplinary and they have all be funded. Through the IADS, various research collaborations have been formed. More projects are currently run across different disciplines as well. Currently the institute runs postgraduate programs (masters) but also looking to admit students into PhD programs who are from different backgrounds. These are the activities of the institute amongst many more. 

Strengthening MDR in African Universities: Makarere perspectives

Speaker: Ms. Hellen Christine Amito, Makarere University, Planning and Development Department, Kampala             

Makarere University has been contributing and promoting MDR through various researches such as Environmental Imapct Assemsent/COVID-19 amongst others.  The various research projects have received funding from different organisations. The university has always ensured the research projects are made up of teams from various backgrounds.     

Multidisciplinary research experience with AHRC (Art and Humanities Research Council) Project

Speaker: Prof. Timothy G. Nubi, Founding Director, Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos.

Prof. Timothy G. Nubi, Founding Director, Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos

Prof. Nubi shared his experience on a MDR he and his team recently worked on, encouraging the workshop participants on the importance of engaging in MDR. 

Closing remark

Speaker: Prof. Oluwole Familoni, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic and Research, University of Lagos

Prof. Oluwole Familoni, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic and Research, University of Lagos

Doing research alone gives room for doubt. It is important to work with others because there are problems that cannot be solved in silos. Also, there is strength in diversity. Hence, researchers need to take advantage of the opportunity around to collaborate with other researchers in different fields. This will help promote sustainability, capacity building, growth of the university and the society at large. 

Group Photograph after the Workshop

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