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EU scientists complain of African bottlenecks

Commission unwilling to fund research infrastructure, conference told

European scientists are struggling to work with African colleagues on large research infrastructures despite ambitious EU goals on collaboration, according to Paerip, the EU-Africa research infrastructure forum.

During a Paerip conference in London last week, European scientists said they are keen to collaborate with Africans but find it difficult as the continent lacks sufficiently specialised facilities and contact points.

“How can an EU researcher get in touch with the African research community if there are no relevant research facilities or centres in Africa?” asked Ian McCrea, a researcher at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Chiltern, UK.

The concerns were voiced in response to the setting of a European Commission goal to boost collaboration between African and European research infrastructures in Horizon 2020, the next research funding programme. This goal was established after South Africa’s winning bid to host the Square Kilometre Array telescope, a project in which the EU is a leading partner.

The Commission representative at the forum rejected a suggestion that Horizon 2020 should deploy EU funding to help develop African research infrastructure facilities.

“The Commission cannot and will not take on responsibilities for funding of research infrastructure because this is in the hands of states,” said Elena Righi Steele, the Commission’s programme officer responsible for research infrastructures.

Stronger identity

African delegates at the conference said they recognised that the continent’s research fragmentation and lack of facilities made it hard for Europeans to build lasting collaboration.

However, Takalani Nemaungani, the director of global projects at South Africa’s science and technology department, said the continent is already trying to create a stronger identity for its researchers through the establishment of academies and improvements to existing research infrastructures.

“Africa wants to come up with an inventory of research infrastructures in both continents, through the African Union,” he said. “Then we can work on some recommendations of how we can improve mutual access to what’s there, and how this can influence future policy, like Horizon 2020.”

Nemaungani added that the AU’s African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) wants to push its members to provide better funding for the establishment of academies, learned societies and research infrastructures in their countries.