From 2008 to 2018, the proportion of research articles written by lecturers at Somali universities was very little compared to their counterparts at universities in Africa. What went wrong?
Last month, I was invited by one of my classmates to read an article in African Affairs journal written by Ryan C. Briggs and Scott Weathers. I took a long-range view, proclaiming that lecturers at African universities have always produced knowledge about their country, people, and culture, even though their contributions have been deliberately rejected.
This article intends to examine ten years of scholarship by Somalia-based lecturers at private universities on social science and to identify a number of important trends.
A brief history at Somali universities: Post-1991
The involvement of non-state actors, especially entrepreneurs in the education sector in Somalia, postdated in 1991. But, while their participation was largely confined to primary and secondary education–a few of them extended their reach at the university level. According to the uniRank Directory, currently, Somalia has 27 universities.
Due to the collapse of the central government in 1991, these universities, particularly private universities played a major role in proving higher education to the general public. They were expected to offer a viable alternative to public institutions and to increase access to quality education. However, in light of these developments, asking where the lecturers at these universities in Somalia stand in terms of research contributions to international journals is essential.
As an undergraduate in Social Science at the University of Somalia from 2011-2014, I have discovered that the extent at which lecturers at Somali universities in international journals are concealed depends entirely on their level of willingness to research. On the other hand, to be a private lecturer and at the same time do research in a university is one of the most critical factors to the universities in the country, and as Mahmood Mamdani once posed a very critical question: “what is the difference between a university that is colonized and one that is independent?”Accordingly, the answer is “a university becomes independent only if it is research-based, in combination with teaching.”
A brief literature review
Africa-based lecturers are highly under-represented in top international peer-reviewed journals. As a new study conducted by Ryan C. Briggs and Scott Weathers found that in 1993, about 30% of articles in African Affairs and the Journal of Modern African Studies were written by lecturers based in Africa’s universities, while by 2013, this figure had bisected to just 15%. Another study carried out by Peace A. MEDIE & ALICE J. KANG came up with a similar observation; they found that between 2008 and 2017 less than 3% of 947 full-length articles in four gender and politics journals published in the western world were written by lecturers based in developing countries.
Not all universities in developing countries share the same similarities. Accordingly, lecturers at three universities in South Africa (Rhodes University, University of Cape Town, and the University of the Witwatersrand) published the most articles followed by researchers at four universities in India. Unfortunately, lecturers at Somali universities have not published articles in these journals.
This was not because Somalia-based lecturers were submitting fewer articles, I found that, but because of the following responsible forces: under pressure, internet connectivity, heavy teaching load, lack of incentives and lack of willingness to undertake research.
Much more investigation is needed to add to the existing literature. But if the trend of responsible forces indicated above found is representative, some clues as to why this is the case may be found by looking at what daily life is like for lecturers at universities in Somalia.
To begin with, lecturers at Somali universities face several pressures. Some of these are more direct such as political pressures to avoid certain topics such as Al-shabaab or opt for safe ‘neutral’ issues. They also face less visible strains–particularly in terms of time and resources– that can interfere significantly with research.
For instance, administrative duties eat up large amounts of many Somalia-based lecturers’ time and energy. Additionally, full-time faculty members have to deal with heavy teaching loads. Class sizes at private universities tend to be large–often reaching between 30 and 60 at basic undergraduate courses–and are mostly taught by a single lecturer.
At the same time, economic pressures can weigh heavily. A country like Somalia, the typical income of a university lecturer is not sufficient to live a reasonable middle-class lifestyle, meaning other opportunities to generate extra income are needed. One way to earn extra money is teaching on a part-time basis.
While lecturers at Somali universities have been facing growing economic and time pressures over the past ten years, the routes to being published in international journals may also have been getting less clear. They generally face significantly higher barriers compared to their counterparts at other universities in Africa.
Although the Internet is increasingly accessible and university libraries are becoming better connected to international databases, for example, there is still a huge deficiency in terms of access to recent publications, in particular books and scholarly articles. Additionally, even where electronic journals and online libraries such as BARAARUG LIBRARY (a Facebook library for textbooks and scholarly articles) may be available, slow internet connections mean Somalia-based lecturers struggle to access recent articles or may end up paying for quicker connections at internet cafes rather than at their universities.
Having a research article published by an international journal is also partly a question of one’s connection, and more recent generations of Somalia-based lecturers may not have had the same opportunity to develop social and professional links in Europe and North America as pre-1991 generations. Many of these generations of the Somali scholars completed their first or second degrees abroad before returning home to teach. But lecturers at Somali universities are more likely to have done their higher degrees at local universities and may not have had the same interaction with those from outside the country.
What are the possible solutions?
The obstacles facing Somalia-based lecturers are multi-faceted and go beyond these daily realities. But there are a few measures that could be taken.
To mobilize reasonable funds for research as well as higher basic salaries for them–so they are not required spending their time supplementing their earnings rather than focusing on academia. This would significantly help their ability to conduct research.
Another area of support would be to help Somalia-based lecturers build stronger international networks. For example, shorter workshops involved visits to regional universities or Turkish universities would help Somali lecturers meet with other researchers, editors and access international libraries.
To remove barriers such as time pressure and heavy teaching loads that makes publishing research articles a challenge for many lecturers, the owners have to invest more in their universities and implement policies that facilitate research.
Finally, private universities should value, support, and validate good quality scholarship through the provision of research funding for their lecturers, living wages, sabbatical time to write and publish, and paid subscriptions to international journals.
Much will need to be done to increase the number of research articles written by Somalia-based lecturers appearing in international journals, but these recommendations indicated above could provide an important start.
By Hassan Mudane