Strengthening Research Management and Support Systems (RMSS) in African Universities

The Malaria Capacity Development Consortium (MCDC, 2008-2016) was set up to strengthen the capacity of five African university departments to provide international-standard academic, administrative and financial support for research activities.

LSTM’s Capacity Research Unit has worked with the consortium since 2009, when we employed an evidence-based process to appraise the practices, procedures and facilities for PhD students in the five African universities. Successes, examples of good practice and gaps in the institutions’ capacity to manage PhD programmes were identified and recommendations made for actions to strengthen the programmes. By 2012 many of these recommendations had been implemented and during a follow up visit action plans and priorities were updated. In 2013 CRU extended their research on PhD programmes to encompass the broader institutional research support systems. We developed and implemented tools to plan, monitor and evaluate activities strengthening the research support systems and structures in the African universities and followed the implementation of these through to March 2016. 

CRU’s collaborative approach to the project 

  • The CRU has a well-established and tested model for planning, implementing and evaluating capacity strengthening (CS) programmes so our approach to this project was to follow our 5-step pathway.
  • CRU conducted a thorough review of relevant published and grey literature to develop a ‘capacity list’ which catalogues all components required by a university or research organisation to achieve optimal research capacity.
  • The CRU conducted site visits at each institution to identify successes, good practice and gaps in capacity, to identify locally sustainable solutions and to develop institutional action plans to address gaps.
  • Through regular contact with research leaders institutional action plans were monitored, challenges and successes identified and any problems or revisions to the action plan were supported.
  • The project provided a unique opportunity to understand how research consortia and institutions operate and how to make them more effective. Lessons from this project about how to select and manage research consortia and how to better support PhD students in Africa have been used to guide new initiatives such as the DFID-Royal Society Africa Awards programme designed to enhance science research capacity across Africa.