|Research Uptake at the University of Zambia|
|Wednesday, 15 July 2015 10:33|
DRUSSA Universities are making great progress in institutionalising Research Uptake and supporting faculties in their Research Uptake activities. But within universities the needs of different faculties can be very different, as emerged in an interview with Mazuba Muchindu and Halwindi Hikabasa, lecturers and DRUSSA short course attendees from the University of Zambia.
The University of Zambia (UNZA) has a long history of engaging in development research and Research Uptake activities. The university website reflects the variety of initiatives that the university is involved in which contribute to national development. For example research conducted by the university in 2014 provided evidence to support the governments plans to reintroduce a new literacy policy. The new policy was based on a series of literacy studies conducted by the School of Educations Department of Language and Social Sciences Education and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Department of Literature and Languages.
Another example is the LAMP (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) procedure used for detecting sleeping sickness in humans, which was developed by the Faculty of Medicine. The procedure is now being used at government hospitals, aligning them with the World Health Organisation guidelines.
These innovations are profiled in regular Research and Science Media Briefings, organised by the Directorate for Research and Postgraduate Studies at UNZA. One such event has been held so far with another scheduled for September 2015. These briefings are an opportunity to present ground breaking research at UNZA, and members of staff in different Schools throughout the university are invited to make presentations. Apart from UNZA academics, the media, local experts outside the university, government officials, representatives from relevant business organisations and other stakeholders are invited to these briefings.
Different Approaches in Different Faculties
The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has a three-pronged focus – teaching, research and community engagement. It deals with broad social issues and has links with both the private sector and government. Although there is no formal strategy for Research Uptake there are some departments within the faculty that have strong links to outside organisations – for example the Department of Economics works closely with the Bank of Zambia, and the Population Studies Department has links with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The Faculty of Health Sciences on the other hand focuses on a combination of teaching and research. The School of Public Health, within the Faculty, deals primarily with government as well as international development agencies as their research is focused on implementation issues.
Opportunities and Challenges
From the perspective of researchers in both faculties the key challenge is developing and maintaining the linkages between researchers and the main users. This is a particular challenge as overall the university recognizes and rewards teaching rather than research and it up to the individual researcher to find the time and resources to establish linkages. Once these linkages are established however the opportunities for Research Uptake increase. For example both faculties are commissioned to conduct research for government and the development sector, and as can be seen by the examples given above the likelihood of uptake is greatly increased if the users themselves have identified their research needs and were involved in developing the terms of reference etc.
A challenge for the university as a whole is the lack of funding allocated for research uptake, and a scarcity of RU practitioners linked to each faculty. One of the initiatives the university DRUSSA Team has initiated is the development of a web page on the UNZA website to help in publicising the research outputs of academics at the university. Despite the challenges the importance of research uptake capacity is known and appreciated. One of the DRUSSA bursary holders will shortly complete her M Phil Science and Technology with a specialization in Research Uptake and Utilisation. Her increased expertise and knowledge, and the continued focus on Research Uptake by the Directors of the Research Office and Library will ensure that the Research Uptake function is resourced as well as is possible.
The UNZA Research webpage can be found here.
Mazuba Muchindu is a Sociologist at the University of Zambia specialising in Urban Social Development from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Hikabasa Halwiindi, a lecturer of Public Health in the School of Public Health