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Opinions of Friday, 8 August 2014

Columnist: Anyanful, Akwasi

The Bogus National Research Fund

The Government wants to withdraw the Research and Book allowances given to University and Polytechnic lecturers, which is part of the conditions of service and replace it with the National Research Fund. The main reason for the cancellation, which the Government is keeping mute about is that, by upgrading teacher training colleges to tertiary institutions, the teaching staff will become lecturers and will be entitled to the research and book allowance. Since the Government wants to “create new universities” but doesn’t want to pay the new lecturers, they are using the establishment of the National Research fund as cover-up. If paying service conditions is now the Government’s biggest headache, why not cancel such conditions for all sectors. Why limit it to the Universities and Polytechnics who by the way enjoy the least service conditions compared to their counterparts at the Ministries with lesser degrees and who also require more for promotion comparatively. Parliamentarians take huge sums as ex-gratia, even those who have been re-elected. Ministers and deputy ministers have allowances such as duty, special, entertainment, wardrobe, free accommodation, chauffer, cook, garden boy, watchman, steward etc. When asked to reconsider for the sake of the country, their responses are it is part of their conditions of service and only Parliament can change it. Yes, parliamentarians should discuss reduction or cancellation of their conditions of service – not going to happen. Yet with one statement, the Government just wants to cancel lecturer’s conditions of service. Who next will it be? The Government wants to replace book and research allowance with the National Research Fund just as is done in advanced countries. Of the many good things done in advanced countries which are not done here, the government selected the National Research Fund first, which is fine by me.
However, I must state emphatically that the government has no idea how a National Research Fund works and the Deputy Minister goes about displaying his ignorance and disgracing himself. In places where a National Research Fund is established, the money released yearly is such that at least 40% of all categories of researchers can obtain research funding. It is part of the budget and there is nothing like the “no money syndrome” on that money, a situation that is very likely to happen in Ghana. The National Research Fund is very well planned to fund every aspect of research from Archeology to Zoology (A-Z). The total money given for research in a particular year is clearly stated. Next the various categories of study sections such as engineering, basic sciences, arts, social sciences, biomedical sciences, allied health, etc. are defined and the percentage of money available to each category clearly stated. Let’s for example choose one category say biomedical science for all proposals related to biomedical research. First, there is the need to appoint the chairperson of this section who should be accepted by all worldwide as being capable and having the biomedical expertise and integrity to handle the position. This chairperson will then invite and appoint other well-meaning and capable biomedical scientists as reviewers to review the proposals. They will come out to state (i) the type of proposals and area of research that should be submitted for funding, (ii) whether a letter of intent or pre-proposal is required, (iii) the deadlines for submissions, (iv) how much money will be allocated to each proposal, (v) how long it will be funded, (vi) the extent of progress required after a specified period, and (vii) whether it will be renewed at the end of the period, etc. After the deadline all proposals are collected and reviewed by the study group and a report is made on each proposal. The reviewers reports granting or refusing a proposal must be such that it will be accepted worldwide as just. Furthermore, within this Biomedical category are sub-categories – pre-doctoral research fellowships for PhD students, post-doctoral research fellowships for fresh PhDs, Beginners-in-aid grants for PhDs with at least 3 years’ experience, medium grants for PhDs with at least 6 – 10 years’ experience, advanced grants for researchers with 10 -15 years’ experience to submit proposals for access to the grants. It is not right for a fresh PhD to compete with a 15 year veteran for the same money. Next, if you are rejected, what is the appeal process and how many times can you submit the same grant? I can go on and on, but at this point, one will agree with me that it is very complex process and a lot of systems must be put in place before we start. The Government by getting up one morning, cancels conditions of service for research and book allowance and replaces it with a National Research Fund that hasn’t been planned and systems put in place looks silly. The Government promised 15 million cedis out of which only 3.75 million has so far made available somewhere. How many lecturers do we have in the Universities, Polytechnics and the Teacher Training Colleges put together who qualify to write which category of proposals. Will the disbursal of the so called 15 million be enough for the most basic research for awardees? What will be the monitoring methods and what happens next year when there is no money as we have seen with GETFUND, District Assemblies, NHIS etc. The “no money syndrome” is the main reason lecturers are afraid to give up the little book and research allowance for the National fund, because in a year or two, there will be no money or the fund disbursal will become political. That is why they are proposing to keep the book and research allowance in addition to the National fund. If the government is really serious about the National fund, then there should be a proposal that any researcher or group of researchers who obtain funding should give up their book and research allowance for the period they are receiving funding. To all who think lecturers do not deserve any allowance, let me state that “you need to pay to publish your work in international peer review journals” and since lecturers are required to publish, most use the allowances for that.
Thus before the Government thinks of substituting with the National Fund, a committee of all stakeholders should sit and draft proposals acceptable by all and conforming to international standards. Without that, sorry, Government, UTAG, POTAG and any other xTAG have a genuine case.