Gender Equality and Educational Opportunities Need To Be Addressed if Africa Is To Join the Global Physics Agenda To Tackle Issues Such As Climate Change

·3-min read

Gender imbalance and a lack of investment in education are stifling physics-based success in Africa that could help address climate change and commercial development on the continent, a new report has found.

Also Read | Pakistan vs South Africa Practice Match Live Streaming Online: Get Free TV Telecast of PAK vs SA T20 World Cup 2021 Warm-up Match on PTV Sports, A Sports

A study headed up by the Institute of Physics (IoP) in partnership with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) garnered responses from more than 50 Sub-Saharan universities across nine countries.

The report – the Africa-UK Physics Partnership Programme Feasibility Study - identified ‘key areas for intervention’ as gender inequality, training and education, and innovation and commercialisation opportunities.

Also Read | Afghanistan vs South Africa Practice Match Live Streaming Online: Get Free TV Telecast of AFG vs SA T20 World Cup 2021 Warm-up Match

Rachel Youngman, deputy chief executive of the IoP, oversaw the three-month study.

Youngman, who has consulted for UK government departments including the Home Office, Department for Education, Department for Health and the Cabinet Office, said: “Physics is an international pursuit, and the challenges physics can address are international in nature.

“This study shows how capacity-strengthening work could create the conditions for physics to thrive in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Deep-seated challenges around gender inclusivity – with the majority PhD holders and academics research staff in the region being male – were seen to pose major barriers to increasing research output in the region.

Youngman said that through developing collaborations with African counterparts, UK businesses and universities could have an impact on global issues including climate change and medical research.

She added: “This will have a big impact, not just on physicists, but on the wider innovation landscape and development goals. For physics in the UK and Ireland there are huge untapped opportunities for collaboration and partnership in the region.”

Suggested ‘methods of intervention’ recommended by the report include engaging governments on the need to have more academic staff, and to appoint research-only staff in universities; addressing gender-based cultural stereotypes and workplace harassment to reduce barriers for women in physics; and improving access to large-scale research facilities and building multilateral Centres of Excellence, particularly in the field of health and medical physics.

Meriel Flint-OKane, head of programmes at the ACU, said that physics “has the potential to significantly deepen our understanding and experience of the world, from mitigating climate change to developing new medical technologies”.

She added: “It is clear from this study that investment in sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen the capacity of universities, develop equitable partnerships, and encourage students – particularly girls and women – to pursue physics as a career, could advance vital innovation that would help us achieve the sustainable development goals.”

The study also found that 91% of the universities surveyed in the region felt they would benefit from greater 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 prospective multi-year programme intended to address existing challenges physics research in Sub-Saharan Africa faces.

The study comes after preliminary research carried out by the IOP in 2019 found that of over 4,000 relevant projects across SSA, only 5.5% involved physics.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting