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Variables Influencing the Transition of Research Management Structures into Systems in Sub Saharan African Universities

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Exploring Variables Influencing the Transition of Research Management Structures into Systems in Sub Saharan African Universities: Nigerian Universities Experience

Abstract

There is an increasing awareness on the need to establish Research Management Offices (RMOs) in many Sub Saharan African Universities (SSAUs). However, there seems to be some disconnects between Research Management (RM) Structures and Systems in SSAUs. Clearly, this area is poorly understood and possibly associated with the low success rate in securing and managing external grants. This study identified and evaluated possible variables showing strong relationship with number of grants attracted. The research was conducted by means of surveys methodology covering a sample of Research Administrators, Managers and academia across 5 selected Universities in Nigeria.  The results were analysed by means of statistical methods. Findings provided robust information on variables and it contributions to grants attraction.Variable such as grants applications submission had coefficient correlation “τ ” 0.94. The research offers a useful insight for RMOs in SSAUs desiring to develop their RM structures into workable system and practice.

Keywords: Research Management Office (RMO), RM structure, RM system, Sub Saharan African Universities SSAUs

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.0 INTRODUCTION

RMOs are established in Universities to have structures that facilitate pre- award activities (i.e. proposal application development) contract management, financial and project management of grants, research data management, publications, and ethical aspects of research. These strands of activities together with the attendant structures and the right working environments should essentially progress into a system. A few studies have reported the establishment of Research Management (RM) structures in African universities, the problems associated with the structures and support provided from a range of external donors to address these problems (Association of Commonwealth Universities, 2001; John Kirkland, 2008; J. Kirkland & Ajai-Ajagbe, 2013). The research management structures within institutions are varied and dynamic in their nature; with variation in perspectives on exactly what these structures are in place to help facilitate or support in some instances. It is fast becoming clear to many African Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) that for Africa to be well positioned in the world’s economy, research and its management remain key drivers for development. The narrative is changing for Africa in the economic landscape, with the recent study published by Wall Street Journal(Keeler, 2014) suggesting that nine of the top ten African economies attracting the attention of 200 European and American multinationals were from Sub Saharan region. Complementing the positive narrative of a change in the economy landscape is the urgent need to access external funding for ground-breaking research in African Universities. This together with the increasing emphasis on collaborative research informed the need for Research Management Offices (RMOs) and structures to coordinate research management and administration between various departments in HEIs (Association of Commonwealth Universities, 2001; J. Kirkland & Ajai-Ajagbe, 2013). Globally, universities and colleges are rated by the strength of research, research structures and research management systems in place in such institutions. The strong reputation of many universities in developed countries could be credited to cutting-edge research and effective research management structures and systems (Arai et al., 2007). In many developed countries, universities over the years have successfully transitioned from RM structure to RM system due to provision of effective, efficient research support services to their institutions and compliance with expectations of high accountability from funding agencies. Establishment of Research Management Offices in Nigerian universities is a recent and emerging trend. Hence, information on structures that should be considered to maximize efficiency and effectiveness is scarce (Nagebu & Naibbi, 2017) . The experience from Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in developed countries suggests that provision of expert research administrative support services through functional RMOs contribute significantly towards enhancing donor’s confidence in grant management processes (Benneh, 2002; J. Kirkland & Ajai-Ajagbe, 2013; Shabani, 1996).

In Nigeria, as it is with many countries in Sub Saharan Africa, little is known about prevailing practices of research management or what is required to attain standard research management practice. The requirements for an appropriate RM structures that would meet the needs of faculty or university community; thus enabling growth and translating into robust RM systems are still rudimentary and many times unknown or understood. The absence of frameworks and grants protocols are some challenges retarding RM structures successfully progressing into RM systems. Mashaah et al. (2014) pointed out another variable, that some African Universities have limited capacity for research governance and management, which could erode donor’s confidence in the Universities’ capacity for research management. Mashaah et al. (2014) identified major challenges limiting research in Zimbabwean universities, especially the lack of adequate resources to sustain the systems for effective research management practice. However, their study did not look at the statistical relationship between the variables identified. Most universities in Africa still gets a budgetary allocation and directives from the government with limited financial support for research, let alone policy, to support research (Mashaah et al., 2014).  J. Kirkland and Ajai-Ajagbe (2013) suggested that the practice of research management in Africa requires redefinition and the need for African universities to not only identify these variables but to use variables identified in modifying RM structures into RM systems that are compatible with international best practices.

Although the Nigerian National Universities Commission (NUC), mandated all Nigerian universities across the country to establish research offices with responsibilities of increasing access to external funding, but with unclear blue print on RM structures and research policy. Thereafter, NUC commissioned a unit for Research and Innovation in 2014 whose role was mainly support universities in the setting up of RM structures and to coordinate the RMOs across universities in Nigeria. The response of many Nigerian universities to the NUC directive has, however, been rather slow with many of the institutions unsure of the structure to embrace let alone having their structures progressing into a system. With a few Nigerian universities having RM structures, the future of RMO seems undefined. However, this paper examines the prevailing structure and practice, identified the gap between RM structures and RM system as variables dependent. Furthermore, drawing from literature, we identified some variables, and these were validated along with more variables discovered during our field trip to 5 selected universities through semi structured interviews with the Five Directors. Variables identified are; number of applications submitted, total number of grants existing in portfolio, staff strength, staff performance, presence of working document, presence of finance management unit, staff training, information on the numerous granting process, mobility experience among Research Administrator suggested strong relationship with number of grants attracted.  Thus, this paper aims to explore prevailing practices of Research Management offices in selected Nigeria Universities with a view; to understand the varied structures and systems, identify the variables/challenges retarding research management structure maturing to system & practice, how variables can be modified towards achieving a robust RM system and recommendations for effective transition from RM structure to RM system and practice particularly for other African institutions  with establish research management/administration offices.

INSERT Figure 1 Schematic diagram of the RM model

 

2.0 MATERIAL AND METHODS

2.1 Study Design

The selected research method was a questionnaire that consisted varied options; closed ended and open -ended questions on research management office and practice. In sections 1 (Questions 1 -8) entails questions about the Research office, Section 2 (Questions 9–18) requests information about the Research Administrator while Section 3 (Questions 20–37) engages with the Research Administrator on his/her duties and experience  the questions were linked to 0-1 answers (where 0- “no”, 1 – “yes”), some questions were linked to multiple choices whereas in section 1, question 4b(i-xx) we applied 1-5 (where: 1 is “low prevalence” and 5 is deemed “high prevalence).

We navigated the research carrying out field study, observing the 5 selected RMOs to evaluate the research management practice and identify the possible variables/challenges. The survey consisted 78-item structured Questions, which was distributed to over 50 respondents across all five selected universities during the field trips. The data analysis was carried out by means of SPSS programme (IBM Corp ., International Business Machines Corp., Armok, New York, United State of America. First, a descriptive variable analysis was carried out followed by the correlation analysis. We used the Kendall Tau-b correlation analysis because data is non-parametric and data set is small (Field, 2009). The bivariate matrix suggested strong positive relationships between number of grants won and number of application submitted, staff strength, staff performance and collaboration.

2.3 Sample and data collection

Research Management Offices in five selected Federal Universities consisting of 1 university established before 1960 and the other 4 established after 1960 in Nigeria were explored to understand their operation and challenges preventing services to their respective universities. The selected universities were all increasingly paying closer attention to the issue of research management and developing initiatives to help support faculty with pre-and post-award grant processes as well as efficiently managing Intellectual Property (IP). Hence, for the study we selected 2 universities from the North, 2 from the South and Lagos being the economy capital of Nigeria.

INSERT Figure 2 Map showing the spatial distribution of the study area

2.4 Data analysis

The quantitative analysis, used SPSS 26.0 software to analyse data using bivariate correlation. Although, quantitative analysis can be improved when the sample size is larger. Unfortunately, there are a few RMOs which explains the low staffing in each RMO, and this affected the sample size. Interestingly, invitation letters were sent out to all 26 Federal Universities in Nigeria to participate, but only 5 Federal universities with RMOs consented to participate. Based on the data collected, there are just over 10 functioning RMOs across 26 Federal Universities in Nigeria.  The authors consider these datasets as representative of the RMO population size in Nigeria and adequate for a descriptive bivariate analysis.

2.5 Ethics

An ethical approval for the study was sought from the University. Prior to recruitment of participants, an email providing details of the study and explaining the voluntary nature of the study was disseminated to the participants with a follow up call.  Participants’ consent was subsequently obtained, enabling one-to-one interview visits scheduled at the RMOs of consenting institutions. To facilitate rapport with participants, additional information about the study were provided to all participants and opportunities to ask questions was incorporated before starting interviews. The names represented in this paper are pseudonyms. This is in accordance with participants’ ethical rights of anonymity.

On conducting a literature review on research management structure and system, little or nothing was generated on the topics. This is because the issue of research management/administration structure and system has been off the radar screen as far as research administration and management is concerned. It becomes imperative to provide baseline definition for RM structure and system. The business dictionary provided some basic definitions.

“Administration, has to do with setting up of objectives and crucial policies of many organisations.”  Management on the other hand is defined from the business dictionary as “the organization and coordination of the activities of a business in order to achieve defined objectives.” Management is a proper subset of administration.

System: “An organized, purposeful structure that consists of interrelated and interdependent elements (components, entities, factors, members, parts etc.). These elements continually influence one another (directly or indirectly) to maintain their activity and the existence of the system, in order to achieve the goal of the system.” Structure is defined as “a framework of identifiable elements (components, entities, factors, members, parts, steps, etc.) which gives form and stability, and resists stresses and strains. The arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex.” Consequently, the structure is a proper subset of system.

Research Administration: “The administration of research involves devising pathways to enhance building technological and scholastic revolution into creative solutions and cultural insights” as defined by Kulakowoski and Chronister 2008.

Putting these definitions to perspective, an attempt is made to define research management structure and system.

Research Administration involves setting up of a robust guide, policies or pathways to follow through the pre-and post -award activities for promoting cutting-edge research project(s). Research management is the act or function of putting into practices the guide, policies, plans and coordinating the pre -and post- award activities of cutting-edge research project(s).

Research Management structure- can be defined as a framework of all functions (pre- and post-award activities) necessary to support and manage all funded project within an organisation which gives form, stability, and resists stresses and strains.

Research Management System- can be simply defined as organized, purposeful structure that consists of interrelated and interdependent functions/duties. These functions/duties continually influence one another (directly or indirectly) to maintain their activity and the existence of the system, in order to achieve the set goal. In other words, research management structure is a proper subset of research management system. Suggesting that RM structures are fundamental components of RM system and without RM structures, RM system is inexistence.

A C B where B is research management system and A is research management structure

2.6 Research Management Structure

The research management structure essentially comprises of a management team that is explicitly responsible for coordinating and managing research activities within the wider university. Research offices often support academic staff through the pre & post award activities irrespective of the geographies.  Generally, the research management responsibility is often assigned to the director who in most cases is an academic staff within the same university. However, in our fieldwork we found across board that many directors whilst managing the research activities s/he is still saddled with teaching loads, research and student’s supervision, which makes the role more challenging.

All the research offices in the selected sample had established a formal or informal structure to coordinate their research administration activities.  Each university had a structure tailored for their research management and administration needs. Hence, with respect to structure, uniformity seemed absent but there were similar activities across all universities studied. Sadly, there is no organisation or network to support research offices nationally with respect to international funding. For instance, in the UK, the United Kingdom Research Office UKRO is the European office of the UK Research Councils. There are seven research councils and the UKRO’s mission is to maximise UK engagement in EU-funded research, innovation and higher education activities. Interestingly, at the regional level, few research offices/HEIs are registered members of the West African Research Innovation Management and Association, which is under the umbrella of the International Network of Research Management Societies. Whilst the main objective is enabling interactions, sharing good practice and joint activities between the member societies, to the benefit of their individual memberships. The objective seems ambitious with the low numbers of HEIs involved or members registered. The Research Management Team implements or facilitates several important activities to drive funding success and excellent research. Primarily, it facilitates the pre- award activities, learning and leveraging of research management know-how and best practices embedded in prior Research Management experience. Secondly, it provides additional value by building support for research management post award activities among researchers. In fact, the creation of a Research Management structure often leads to the implementation of explicit systems and processes directed to address the mentioned activities in a systematic fashion.

2.7 Research Management Systems

Drawings from observations from all 5 Research Offices studied, including those with good research management experience, failed to document lessons associated with their prior experience. A Director in a leading HEI that was studied reflected this trend in the following comment: “Although we have engaged in a few research projects, we don’t know what we have learned from them because this information is not documented. We ought to be capturing that knowledge for reuse in future but instead we spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel”.  However, it was observed that Research offices with special teams to facilitate and coordinate their research activity through peer to peer engagement did engage in some learning effort. Kale, Dyer, and Singh (2001) used similar processes in explaining the development of Alliance Management structure into Alliance Management system. Drawing from Kale et al. (2001), it could be explained that the implemented systems are established via set of processes, learning from past- experience and re-using and leveraging them in future. These processes include the following four aspects: documentation, communication & peer engagement, Create, and mentorship.  Directors with prior research management experience usually possess invaluable insights and lessons based on their personal experience. RMOs can benefit a great deal if they can access and document the research insights and experiences of these individuals. Once the insights are documented, they are retained within the organization even if the Director leaves the RMO. More importantly, other Directors/managers in the RMO can now access these insights and experiences more easily to help them in their own research management challenges. It was also observed that dedicated Research management teams in some RMOs regularly engaged in debriefing their directors through a reporting system, which is documented. RMOs studied had processes in place for communicating with academic staff /faculty. These included; communication via peer- peer engagements, seminars, workshops, telephone conversation, bulk text messages and emails. Another process of developing existing structure is creation of tools such as Research management guidelines, research policy, worksheets and manuals based on the prior research management experience of their research office. Their primary emphasis is on creating usable decision-making tools, worksheets and ‘best practices’ templates that are customized to meet the RM practice. Finally, is the mentorship phase, many of the RMOs are relatively new; hence, the mentorship phase in most RMOs in SSAUs is not well established. However, it was observed that four of the five RMOs studied have some arrangements/MOU with RMOs in either the United States of America or United Kingdom for mentorship. In addition, a great step in the positive direction is the HEIs in SSAUs seeking to set up a research office in their respective universities reaching out to HEIs with established RMOs in SSAUs for mentoring.

3.0 RESULTS

The survey consisted 78-item structured Questions which were distributed as follows: RMO Directors (5) Deputy Director (4) Research Fellows (3) Research Administrators (25) others (13).

3.1 Bivariate Correlation Analysis

Preliminary results/data suggested some relationship might exist between the variables listed however, to get more description of the relationship; a bivariate correlation analysis was carried out on the data. Kendall’s Tau-b correlation analysis was selected because the data was non-parametric and data set was small on Likert scale. A 2 tailed test option was selected in the dialogue box for the bivariate correlation analysis because the direction of the relationship is not predicted. A total of 60 variables were tested and analysis suggested strong positive correlation with some variables and at other times, inverse correlation with some of the variables.

INSERT Figure 3 Display of the SPSS analysis bivariate matrix of the variables

INSERT Table I Matrix for Number of grant application submitted (Accessing Grants Calls & Grants Applications)

INSERT Table II Matrix for Number of grants won (Attracting Grants & Increasing Grants portfolio)

INSERT Table III Matrix for RMO Operations & Staff performance

INSERT Table IV Matrix for Researcher’s responsiveness

 

4.0 DISCUSSION

The study’s main contribution provides guides to translating RM structures into systems in Sub Saharan African Universities by identifying variables that could potentially contribute to the process of attracting external grants. These variables or factors were carefully analysed and processed into a simple matrix, ranking the individually identified variables based on the relationships established with the measured variable “the number of grants application that was successful over time” . The results are discussed under the following strands, to uncover the factors confronting the transition of RM structures in Sub-saharan African Universities into effective RM systems. Providing efficient support to research activities and provide clear relationship between these variables, in assisting managers and administrators in making succinct decision on progressing RM structures into systems viz: accessing grants calls & grant applications submitted, attracting grants & increasing grants portfolio, RMO operation and perfomance, RMO staff management & performance and researchers responsiveness. These strands were identified as important variables that addresses the transition of RM structures into RM system based on their correlation co-efficient “τ” value.

4.1 Accessing Grants Calls & Grants Applications Submission

Although universities in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and a few others across Sub Saharan Africa have benefited from international funding such as NIH and European Research Council suggesting access to grants and a system in progress (John Kirkland, 2008). However, a clear majority of Nigerian institutions seem relatively unfamiliar with the specifics of international research funding. This seems an obvious area for future training and development for many institutions in Sub Saharan Africa. Such training could cover proposal development and familiarisation with the specific rules and regulations of international funding such as ODA, GCRF, Newton funding, Horizon2020, NSF and NIH.

Data from interview and surveys suggested that three out of five universities studied were registered on a research platform where they could access information on grants calls. In addition, results from the bivariate analysis further described variables such as; total grants currently managed, research administrators attitude, Number of grants in portfolio, grant management training, registration on research platform, number of International MOUs, number of MOUs within Nigerian Universities, number of research administrators’ assigned to search for grant calls, research administrator’s primary place of assignment, collaboration and network, resource material and skills all showing strong correlation with access to grants calls & grants applications. The summary from Table 4.1 suggests that number of grants currently managed by RMO positively relates to number of grant application submitted with Kendall Tau Coefficient of τ = 0.939 and the significance value is less than 0.01(as indicated by the double asterisk after the coefficient). Similarly, number of existing international MOUs, Collaboration & Networks and Research Administrator’s attitude also produced strong correlation with number of application submitted at significance value less than 0.01 as indicated in Table 4.1. Grant Management training positively relates to accessing grant calls/number of applications submitted with Kendall Tau Coefficient of τ =0.689 and the significance value is less than 0.01 registration on research platforms is positively related to number of applications submitted with Kendall Tau Coefficient of τ =0.560 and the significance value is less than 0.01. Negative relations simply mean that increase in one variable will cause decrease in the other variable. For example, the salary difference is negatively related to number of grant application with coefficient τ = -0.635 which is also significant at p <0.001. Reduction in salary difference (which means increase in salary) and internal bureaucracy (which means providing a fast-tracking process) will cause increase number of grant application submitted.

Perhaps most importantly, SSAUs should explore training administrators on methods/strategy on identifying suitable funding calls and funding bodies, as well as how to build a track record with such organisations

4.2 Attracting Grants & Increasing Grants portfolio

The Association of African Universities study reported a low (4%) recurrent budget on research amongst responding universities between 1993-1994 (Sawyerr, 2004). This suggests a low internal funding for research in sub Saharan African Universities. However, in the last decade, Universities in Nigeria has experienced some improvement through the Tertiary Education Trust fund. Conversely, this funding is insignificant because it is limited. Considering the limited funding and echoing concerns (Shabani, 1996), it becomes imperative for HEI to attract grant through external means (Sawyerr, 2004). Apparently, the situation is not different in Asia, country like Malaysia depend on internal research grants and the research management office focus more on internal research grants (Blohm S., Kirkland J., & . 2016).

Matrix from Bivariate analysis suggests the following variables; number of applications submitted, RMO staff attitude, staff strength, training of RA, wrong match of researcher with themes, collaboration ad network, presence of MOUs, salary difference, registered research platform and career pathway, all have some correlation with number of grants won or attracted. Table 4.2 indicated that untrained research administrators produced negative correlation with number of grants won, τ  = -0.679, p< .001. This means that as untrained RA increases, the number of grants attracted decreases. Conversely, as number of applications submitted increases, the Number of grant won/attracted also increases. Similarly, as the career pathway remains unclear, this might affect the RMO staff‘s attitude and invariable affect the number of grants won or attracted. In addition, reducing salary differences/range would boost RMO staff’s attitude and consequently, increase the number of applications submitted and the number of grants won. There exists an interrelationship between these variables.

Interestingly, a few universities in Nigeria navigate international funding landscape with international partners as subcontractor within a consortium. This approach could be an excellent opportunity to build a reputation with funders, while leaving most of the more complex application and grant management to the lead organisation.

Recently, some changes are implemented in the UK funding landscape, where by funding such as Official Development Assistance and Global Challenge Research Fund requires that the lead university collaborate with a university in the developing country.  A possible path for developing countries to benefit from these funding might be through the existing Memorandum of Understanding between a UK university, industry (local or international) and a university from a developing country. Study suggests that there seems to be limited international MOUs existing and effective in the selected universities studied which further confirms the need to establish effective MOUs for future collaboration and funding opportunities. Another possible means of attracting these grants might be through networking, making initial contacts with a UK university of interest and the industry. Similarly, there are a few grants from the United States of America that developing countries can access such as Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research: PEER program, funded by USAID and provides grant support directly to researchers in developing countries to collaborate with US researchers.

4.3 RMO Operations & Staff performance

The success of an RMO largely depends on the staff strength and performance as indicated in Table 4.3 with coefficient τ = 0.691 and significance value is less than 0.01. Having appropriate calibre of staff in RMO is critical for faculty actively involved in research activities to be effectively supported (Swamidass & Vulasa, 2009). Identifying key staff for Directorship of ROs was important and therefore universities need to appoint individuals with vast experience of accessing and managing grants. The ability to leverage on their wealth of experiences is crucial, as their input will be essential for success of the office. It will help if the person identified for Directorship are regarded as forward-thinking members of the academic community and generally interested in the institution’s research development. Table 4.3 presented other variables that contributes to the RMO‘s performance to include; presence of a financial management unit, τ = 0.533 and collaboration & networking τ =0.558 with significant value, p < 0.05 Internal bureaucracy τ =0.654, improving unsuccessful proposals τ = 0.856 and facilitating workshops on grants writing skills τ =0.687 with significance value are less than 0.01 suggesting that the significance value is close to zero. Hence, it can be demonstrated that there are genuine relationships between the variables. Staff performance and RMO performance variables are dependent on one another as indicated in Table 4.3. More importantly, Bivariate correlation analysis indicated that RM staff performance positively relates with number of grants applications submitted τ =0.618, number of grants won τ = 0.740, number of years working as research administrators τ =0.741 , p < 0.01  for all three values respectively, number of years RMO has been established τ =0.450 , staff assigned to search grants calls τ = mobility of RA τ =0.554 , staff strength τ =0.691 , collaboration & networking τ =0.558  with p <0.05 for all six variables respectively. Increase in number of grants applications submitted, number of grants won, years of establishment, staff assigned to search grants calls, mobility of RA, staff strength and collaboration & networking were identified as factors that will cause an increase in the staff performance and RM performance.

For collaboration and networking to be visible in the RM system, there need be a thoughtful effort in initiating an association or network for the few existing RMOs in the HEIs within the country. Currently, there is no organization of research administrators in Nigeria and as such, it is difficult to share experiences, communicate benefits of creating RMOs among institutions and collectively brainstorm to tackle challenges. Having an organised association or network of research administrators may be advisable, but some caution applied here, for the success of the network, a common approval should first be solicited from across the universities where they exist to be sure that the participants are involved, and the network can benefit from the experience of the community. It is also important that members of the network are keen on sharing experiences, and meeting periodically to discuss issues that the university research management offices are facing locally and/or internationally and learn from them (Bamiro, 2013). Albeit, more needs to be done to support newly established research offices by the Research and Innovation Unit of the National Universities Commission. Currently, there is little or no interface between the Research and Innovation Unit and the Universities’ RMOs. Although, the Research and Innovation Unit of NUC display excellent research work through a programme televised on the national television. However, in building capacity for the RMOs, the interface and network between Research and Innovation Unit (NUC) and existing RMOs in the universities are weak and needs urgent redress to engender support for transition of existing RM structures into RM systems.

While Salary differences τ = -0.537, untrained RA on grant management τ = -0.501 and unknown career pathway τ =-0.630 significance values are less than 0.05 suggested negative relation, which might be interpreted as a reduced salary difference among RM staff (increase salary) will promote performance. Similarly, unknown career pathway will not encourage staff and hence, not promote performance. It is expected that a known career pathway will promote staff performance. There have been some concerns in the career pathway for Research Administrators and Research Fellows. Abbott (1988); Harries- Jenkins (1970); Wilensky (1964) reported that research administrator is a profession positioned within a complex university organisation in a complex research system. Association of Commonwealth Universities (2001); John Kirkland (2008); Sawyerr (2004) suggested that the HEI should consider making research management a profession, establishing a career pathway. Atkinson, Gilleland , and Barrett (2007) argued that professionalism of research administration should be grounded by the professionalism theories and further explained that professionalism of research administration means defining; the field of knowledge with a goal to protecting individuals who provide the professional’s expert knowledge, those that depend on the professional expert’s knowledge, clients and stakeholders.

Respondents recommended that, Nigerian HEIs seeking to adopt a model for effective RM system/practice, must understand how much of institutional support is available and specify the staffing capacity. The Directors in this study advised HEIs intending to set-up Research Offices to have a blend of core research administrators and faculty PhD holders. The contention that such mix would (to a large extent) guarantee a breadth of staff with competencies in academic and non-academic intricacies of research management. It is believed that this staffing approach will drive research administration towards the professionalism explained by Atkinson et al. (2007) while conforming with best global Research Management Practice.

4.4 Researcher’s responsiveness

Research support staff often cite issues of other internal responsibility and engagement’ as the single biggest factor demotivating researchers to embrace emerging opportunities. As a community, we frequently focus on how to communicate externally, but spend less time improving channels with, and for, our own staff. Internal communication is important as staff of the Universities require to be incentivised and nudged frequently in accordance with their areas of specialisation, Three of the Universities studied, is working with the faculties to produce data on researcher’s area of specialties. In most cases, the Central Information Technology System unit; a professional services teams, is invited to assist with the most effective way to gather data on areas of specialisation, capacity in the university community and a wide variety of information, such as funding opportunities, calls for event participation and good news stories without overwhelming the Faculty staff.

Researchers’ responsiveness depends on some variables identified below in Table 4.4. Bivariate matrix indicated that researcher’s responsiveness is positively related to the following; number of grant applications τ = 0.740, Faculty engagement τ =0.654 both have significance value less than 0.01 while researcher’s responsiveness is negatively related to unavailable research policy and relevant documents τ = -0.653, poor research questions τ = -0.602, untrained RA on grants management τ = -0.614, and significance value are less than 0.01. Negative relations simply mean that increase in one variable will cause decrease in the other variable. Increase in untrained RA on grants management will cause a decrease in researcher’s responsiveness. Similarly, increase in wrong match of researchers to research calls, poor research questions and methods will cause decrease in researcher’s responsiveness.

Faculty engagement which essentially would include some training on research proposal writing and the protocol for researchers was seen to strongly relate with the researcher’s responsiveness and this reconfirms Boyer and Cockriel (1997) report that early career researchers perceives that inadequate training on grant proposal writing contributes to the lack of responsiveness

It is understood that no single or specific structure and system of research administration will be able to address all the challenges in RMOs in Sub Saharan African Universities.  Findings from this study recommend that for efficient RMO, staff of the RMO should constantly observed their institutions research management operations and identified variables introduce modifications as needed in either of the institution’s pre-award process, post-award protocols, staffing of the RMO, faculty orientation about the Research Office, etc., or some combination thereof, and interventions that could tackle specific key challenges. Overall, findings suggest that for RM structures in Sub Saharan African Universities will have to evaluate their research clime and decide on the approach with best potential for effective service delivery. For example, any decision about establishing a RM structure will have to consider a variety of variables e.g. what is needed for accessing grants calls, attracting grants, researcher’ responsiveness, staff performance and RMO performance, strengths and weaknesses of the institution, level of networking, coordination and university’s support structures available.

5.0 CONCLUSION

Research Offices are just emerging in Nigeria and models explored for growth by HEIs are presently diverse. What will work for the institutions, to a large extent, depend on recognizing the uniqueness of systems within the respective institutions and perhaps adapting the identified variables to assist in progressing RM structures into RM systems. Developing RM structure into RM system is increasingly a management concern in Nigerian universities and this is mirrored across the Sub Saharan African Universities but the tenacity for growth in RM practice is strong and overwhelming. A significant challenge is finding the most efficient workable RM structure to adopt and how to best galvanize faculty acceptance, compliance, co-operation and institutional support. Adapting a RM structure that would work best will depend on understanding and implementing the identified variables and of course the list is not exhaustive. HEIs intending to develop their RM structure into RM system might adopt the identified variables and ensure that the offices are reasonably staffed with key administrators. Networking among researchers; university- industry partnership is essential to accessing some grants, many funding agencies ultimately require compliance with set guideline and most importantly transparency. The RMOs should be abreast of relevant issues regarding grant calls and administration. Variables identified in the study are expected to inform and serve as template towards establishment of a successful university RMO in sub-Saharan Africa including assisting existing structures’ transition into a management system. This study has collected and analysed data from the surveys, observations and interviews of the selected HEIs involved in this study, identified variables that could be adapted and implemented in developing a robust RM system. Given the dynamic landscape of research administration, the study provided possible variables that can be applied in improving the RM system going forward, as Sub Saharan African Universities prepares to position themselves to take lead role in the international research landscape and agenda.

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