Science in (South) Africa: history, governance, state and trends

The aim of studies in this field is to provide in-depth descriptive and interpretive analyses of the state and dynamics of science in South Africa (SA) and Africa. This theme includes studies on the history of science and scientific research. It will also include analyses of the governance of the science system, the social contract between the state and the science system and the role of different actors in performing system functions. The thematic area will also be devoted to ongoing studies and analyses of the dynamics of scientific research: output studies, collaboration studies, and productivity studies. Such studies would typically address the sciences in their entirety or could focus on specific fields and disciplines. At another level we will also aim to model the overall efficiency of the SA science system and its comparative standing in the world.

A core theme within these focus area is knowledge production and research at universities. SA universities produce the bulk of scientific output on the continent and therefore require special attention. Studies in this area include descriptive and explanatory studies in order to understand commonalities and differences in knowledge production in this sector. These studies focus on the factors that explain differences in the shape of knowledge production, research productivity (also across fields) and research outputs. Studies are also undertaken to address questions of differentiation in output and how these are related to differences in institutional histories, missions, national and institutional policies and strategies.

A core theme within these focus area is knowledge production and research at universities. South African universities produce the bulk of scientific output on the continent and therefore require special attention. Studies in this area will include descriptive and explanatory studies in order to understand commonalities and differences in knowledge production in this sector. These studies will focus on the factors that explain differences in the shape of knowledge production, research productivity (also across fields) and research outputs. Studies will also be undertaken to address questions of differentiation in output and how these are related to differences in institutional histories, missions, national and institutional policies and strategies. Given the interest in research performance metrics and indicators (and the associated topic of university rankings), a special working group will be established to work with university research offices and institutional researchers to develop a widely accepted set of credible and appropriate research performance metrics.

The state of science in Africa has considerably improved over the past decade. After many years of neglect, many African countries have entered a period of rapid growth and leaders are starting to see science and technology as the keys to progress. However, African scientific performance still lags behind the rest of the world. It is also acknowledged that many knowledge contributions from African science remain “invisible” and unaccounted for. This thematic area explores the complexities of African scientific performance and ways of improving the measurement of scientific achievements in a way that is relevant for the African context.