Great scientific and technical innovations are correlated with and ensue from purposeful and meticulous research. Diagnosis of problems and remedial solutions to myriad challenges – in all fields – are the elements of progress that continue to make a difference in every aspect of national and global development and that could not have transpired without far- sighted research approaches and adequately funded facilities.
In a nutshell, advances in the sciences and humanities, the technological breakthroughs that have spurred radical changes in societal production and organization throughout time have all been hinged on organized research. In this perspective, the establishment of the Eritrea Research Fund (ERF) in 2013 under the auspices of National Commission for Higher Education was indeed a significant, if not belated, measure that augurs well for basic academic and applied research in the country’s fledgling institutes of tertiary education.
The structured and formalized approach will indeed offer additional impetus to research work that has been going on in a loosely coordinated manner largely on the basis of departmental and/ or individual initiatives. Some of the illustrious research outputs in the preceding years in fact include the innovative work of Aman Russom, an Associate Professor at EIT, who succeeded in turning an ordinary DVD player into an HIV testing machine. Saied Ibrahim’s development, prior to his graduation, of two new mathematical theorems also stands out as an inspiring precursor of what might ensue in the period ahead with better organization and funding of research work and opportunities in the country.
Since its establishment in 2013, the ERF has already embarked on allocating funds to several research projects thus eliminating, to a certain constraint, financial constraints that would have inhibited serious research work.
It was against this backdrop that the Eritrea Research Fund organized a two-day workshop at the Conference Hall of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers on 17 December this month. Addressing the workshop, the Minister of Education, Mr Semere Russom emphasized the importance that the Government of Eritrea attaches to research – both in the institutes of higher education as well as in other bodies.
Local problems are better addressed through local research initiatives and projects. Stating that research and innovation are critical components and pre-requisite for the country’s development process, Minister Semere stressed that “a problem-focused research approach does not only come up with practical and viable solutions to societal problems, but it also informs the decision and policy making processes.”
Prof. Tadese Mehari, Executive Director of National Commission for Higher Education, for his part underlined the symbiotic ties between, and the impact and relevance of research, on the teaching process itself. Adaptation and development of the curricula in the degree and diploma courses offered by the various institutions of higher education in the country cannot in fact be carried out without serious and relevant research programmes and projects.
Prof. Tadese stated that despite limited resources, the NCHE continues to encourage research in all institutions of higher education through soliciting funds, the provision of assistance for the construction of research facilities and infrastructure, as well as through initiating joint research ventures with external partners with whom it has established exchange programmes and other academic networks. The Eritrea Research Fund has so far issued three invitations in the past two years for application to research funds from prospective candidates. Many of the research projects submitted for funding have come both from institutions of higher education in the country as well as research centers in various government ministries.
Professor Zemenfes Tsgie, Head of the Research Bureau at the NCHE, elaborated on the status and progress of the research programmes which have received ERF funding. Professor Zemenfes indicated that while the aggregate number of research proposals submitted for funding was 80, only 42 research proposals were currently receiving funds from the Research Fund. 19 of these have now been completed, including two books and teaching materials. The research covered wide areas of culture, history, languages and literature, health and education, energy, natural resources and environment, food security, poverty eradication, sustainable livelihoods, and gender among others.
Some of the papers presented at the workshop include: “Youth Entrepreneurship”, by Dr. Gergish Tekle, instructor at Halhale College of Business and Economics; Conservation of coral reefs, a joint research paper by Dr. Zekaria Abdelkerim, Mr. Abiselom Girmai, and Mr. Temesgen Ghebremeskel. There were also several papers related to the enhancement of medical and educational services. Prevention to post surgical complications and easing pains that may happen during operation assisted delivery was presented by Mr. Girmai Gebrezgabihier and Mr. Desale Tewelde.
All in all a total of 16 research papers that mostly address societal and environmental issues were presented during the workshop.
Broadening the scope of research work to include Eritreans in the Daispora, expatriate researches who are interested in the country, all government ministries and relevant bodies was one of the issues discussed at the workshop. In this respect, Professor Tadesse Mehari again stressed the dividend from expanded research both in terms of generating applicable solutions to identified problems as well as to the teaching profession. “The more research outputs are injected to courses, the more teaching becomes relevant and meaningful.” Prof. Tadese Mehari remarked. This was also related with the emerging practice of encouraging all faculty members in all institutions of higher education “to proactively engage in research activities, textbook writing and development of teaching materials.”
Securing adequate funding is of course a critical element for the expansion and sustainability of the research programmes. Professor Tadesse indicated that the ERF was initially established by the NCHE in collaboration with the Central Office of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. The main sources of funding have so far come from the Government in the form of an annual budget. The structured funding arrangement is useful for purposes of continuity and predictability although there is still room for improvement. The UNDP, as a partner institution, has also injected a substantial amount of funds.