Gender equality and educational opportunities must be addressed if Africa is to join the global physics agenda to tackle issues such as climate change
Gender imbalance and lack of investment in education is choking physics-based success in Africa that could help tackle climate change and business development on the continent, according to a new report.
A study led by the Institute of Physics (IoP) in partnership with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) collected responses from more than 50 sub-Saharan universities in nine countries.
The report – the feasibility study of the Africa-UK Physics Partnership Program – identified ‘key areas of intervention’ such as gender inequality, training and education, and opportunities for innovation and commercialization.
Rachel Youngman, deputy chief executive of IoP, oversaw the three-month study.
Youngman, who has consulted with UK government departments including the Home Office, Education Department, Department of Health and the Cabinet Office, said: “Physics is an international quest and the challenges that physics may fall under are international in nature.
“This study shows how capacity building work could create the conditions for physics to thrive in sub-Saharan Africa. “
The deeply rooted challenges around gender inclusion – with the majority of doctoral graduates and academic research staff in the region being male – were seen as major obstacles to increasing research results in the region. .
Youngman said that by developing collaborations with their African counterparts, UK companies and universities could have an impact on global issues, including climate change and medical research.
She added: “This will have a big impact, not only on physicists, but on the wider landscape of innovation and development goals. For physics in the UK and Ireland, there are huge untapped opportunities for collaboration and partnership in the region. “
Suggested “intervention methods” recommended by the report include governments’ commitment to the need to have more academic staff and to appoint research staff only in universities; tackle sexist cultural stereotypes and harassment at work in order to reduce barriers for women in physics; and improving access to large-scale research facilities and establishing multilateral centers of excellence, particularly in the area of health and medical physics.
Meriel Flint-OKane, program manager at ACU, said physics “has the potential to dramatically deepen our understanding and experience of the world, from climate change mitigation to the development of new medical technologies.”
She added, “It is clear from this study that investing in sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen the capacity of universities, develop equitable partnerships and encourage students – especially girls and women – to pursue careers in physics, could advancing vital innovation that help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The study also found that 91% of the universities surveyed in the region believed they would benefit from better access to “large-scale” research facilities.
The survey was funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and was undertaken as part of a feasibility study around the introduction of a forward-looking multi-year program for to meet the existing challenges of physics research in sub-Saharan Africa. faces.
The study comes after preliminary research conducted by the IOP in 2019 found that of more than 4,000 relevant projects across SSA, only 5.5% involved physics.