How accessible is research by Kenyan universities?

“If a tree falls in the middle of a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The overall goal of research is to contribute towards developing solutions that will improve society. It goes without saying, therefore, that research solutions can only be put to use for the benefit of society if they are made available and accessible in the first place.

A couple of weeks ago while reading through my Twitter feed, I came across a Tweet by Elkanah Odembo (who was until recently Kenya’s ambassador to the USA) where he remarked that it had been quite a while since he had read about any research by universities in Kenya.

Elkanah Odembo Tweet screen shot

Been waiting a long, long time to read about any research findings from any of Kenya’s universities. Is there serious research going on?” Odembo wondered.

His Tweet got a quite a number of responses from various Kenyans who shared his concerns. The ensuing Twitter discussion brought up important issues that relate to the problem of low visibility of research by Kenyan universities and the likely contributing factors.

Some of the issues raised were the low research capacity among university staff and students (for example, lack of experience in writing grant proposals); inadequate government funding for research and development; heavy teaching burden that doesn’t allow lecturers enough time to focus on research; and inadequate linkages with research knowledge brokers.

Admittedly, there are no easy solutions to this complex problem. However, as I commented in response to Odembo’s Tweet, while our universities may indeed be carrying out a lot of research (think of all the Master’s and PhD projects being undertaken), they have not done a very good job of making their research outputs visible and accessible for uptake and use.

Take, for example, my alma mater, the University of Nairobi which often prides itself during graduation ceremonies as “the mother and father of all public universities in the country”.

Well, for all its chest-thumping and own-back-patting, the University of Nairobi only adopted its Open Access policy in December 2012, followed soon afterwards by the launch of its institutional repository that serves as a digital collection of the university’s scholarly outputs.

This move is a step in the right direction towards increasing the accessibility of tons of Master’s and PhD research findings that were previously tucked away in black hard-bound theses and dissertations accessible only by walking over to the Africana section of the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library at the Main Campus or to the reference sections of college libraries.

Apart from theses and dissertations, other categories of research outputs available on the University of Nairobi’s repository are books, conference proceedings, research reports, policy papers, lectures, speeches, and open and distance learning modules.

However, the University needs to do more to let the public know that its research and scholarly outputs are indeed readily available online. Apart from the University of Nairobi, the only other Kenyan university I know of that has an institutional repository is Strathmore University. Are there others?

So, to paraphrase the well-known thought experiment quoted at the beginning of this post: If Kenyan universities carry out research but the public knows nothing about it, does that research have any impact on society?

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4 thoughts on “How accessible is research by Kenyan universities?

  1. I chuckled when I read the “chest-thumping and own-back-patting” part. šŸ™‚ I work in the AuthorAID project, which supports developing country researchers in publishing their work, and I regularly teach scientific writing to researchers in Africa and elsewhere.

    I was under the impression that Kenya is one of the leading countries in Africa in research productivity. Would you be able to say how Kenya is faring with respect to other African nations?

    • Good to hear about your work with the AuthorAID project in developing capacity for scientific writing and publishing.

      I recently came across a report by INASP (http://www.inasp.info/en/publications/details/113/) that places Kenya among the 26 most productive African countries with respect to scientific research output, with Agriculture and biological sciences and Medicine as the two main subject areas of scientific production.

  2. Yes, there are others as well: Kenyatta University: http://ir-library.ku.ac.ke/ir and JKUAT: http://41.204.187.24:8080/jspui/. And in progress (will be launched soon) at Africa Nazarene University, Baraton University, Bondo University, Daystar, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Egerton University, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University, Kabarak, KCA, Kenya Institute of Education, Kenya Methodist University, Kenya Polytechnic University College, Kenya School of Government, Kisii University College, Marist University College, Maseno University, Moi, Mount Kenya University, Presbyterian University of East Africa, Pwani University College, St. Paul University and Tangaza College. Research organizations also have open access repositories: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): http://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/1 and Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute: http://41.215.122.106/dspace/. African Research and Resource Forum (ARRF) is currently setting up its open access repositories.

    • Wow! Thanks, Iryna, for letting me know about these other institutional repositories in Kenyan universities. It’s good to see that many others are in progress. We really need to have this research accessible by the public.

      I work at ILRI and part of my job involves indexing the outputs of the research program I work with (Food Safety & Zoonoses) in the ILRI open access repository which was launched in 2009. ILRI has had good success in making available our range of research outputs both on the repository and Google Books. Work is in progress to extend this to research data and databases.

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