We need to reach out and work across disciplinary and physical boundaries

International research networks are key in the global world in which we live today, said Margrethe Holm Andersen, Chairperson, Danida Fellowship Centre on 27 June 2019 in her speech of thanks for the report “Opportunities Challenges and Bad Weather”

Read “Opportunities Challenges and bad weather” here

On behalf of Danida Fellowship Centre, I would like to thank Hanne and Lene for their efforts to prepare the retro study giving voice to African researchers who have been involved in Danida funded research capacity building projects during the period 1989 to 2019 – a period of no less than 30 years. The report unfolds their experience and share their reflections regarding what they have gained from the involvement in the research and research capacity-building activities – and not least from the interaction with Danish collaborating partners over extended time-periods.

It’ been a big wish for DFC to conduct a study of this nature – and we are pleased that Hanne and Lene accepted the challenge to do the study. I am aware that getting the report into its final shape has been a big task – so thanks a lot! I also want to thank Bente Ilsøe who has been particularly important in helping prepare the study and in promoting the idea that we should get it done.

In addition, I would like to thank the reference group – including Peter Kragelund; Annette Skovsted Hansen and Stig Jensen – who all provided valuable inputs to the study method and helped make sure findings were presented in a more clear and succinct manner. And finally, I would like to thank Faustin Maganga and Anders Breidlid for their thoughtful and interesting comments to the report. To me the key question in the discussion part of the session was really about how to avoid that educational collaboration confirms old power structures (North-South and within the South) – and how to make sure much more research is made available open access to research funded e.g. by development agencies and foundations. There are interesting experiments going on regarding establishment of new platforms for publishing e.g. in Sweden and Canada, which we should look into.

Coming back to the report launched here today, I am pleased that the report is now available and that Hanne and Lene have placed so much emphasis on making sure the report presents the voices of the African researchers. Some of the specific quotes used in the report may not reflect the experience of others. For instance, I am aware that quite a lot of African PhD fellows and researchers get to publish as first authors on the papers they produce with Danida funding. But judging from the report, we should maybe make rules more clear in this area and encourage Danish researchers to ensure that African researchers are first authors in all cases, where this is relevant and reflect the actual input to a joint article or book project. I hope, that views expressed by the African PhD students and researchers in the report will be heard, taken on board and used wisely in ongoing considerations about the future of Danish support to research and research capacity development.

The study findings have already been discussed in this session. A key element is, of course, the generally very positive outcomes that the African researchers emphasize have been the result of their involvement in Danish supported research capacity building activities. The African PhD students and researchers could maybe have learned and done the same in other countries and at other universities or with other colleagues, but they did not! They actually – for many different reasons – ended up coming to Denmark and working with Danish researchers and peers. Denmark as a small country with bad weather (!) and a strange language that is only spoken by about 5-6 million people was not an obvious choice, but clearly they have learned a lot and seem to have taken valuable lessons with them.

The main messages from the report and today’s session for me are the following:

• The importance of personal relations can hardly be overestimated
• Increased skills in terms of critical thinking are crucial and something we should all work on
• Long-term collaboration might sound “long haired” but is critical and highly recommendable in knowledge creating processes
• Finally, your international research network is what makes or breaks you as a scientist.

International research networks are key in the global world in which we live today. Irrespective of whether we are looking into issues relating to food security, the development of bacterial resistance, climate change, human trafficking or human rights, it does not make sense to work in isolated silos. On the contrary: we need to reach out and work across disciplinary as well as physical boundaries.
The work of DFC is aimed at supporting such types of collaboration; facilitating linkages and supporting the joint creation of new knowledge that can help solve societal problems and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – in African countries and in all the other countries where we are working and supporting research and research capacity development.

The report and its key recommendations will – together with other materials and the outcome of an ongoing bibliometric survey – be presented to members of the ongoing external evaluation of Danish support to development research and research capacity building. Although the report only covers experience from Africa and should be complemented by information from other sources, we hope it will be a useful input to the discussions on future Danish support in the field.

As Chair of the Board at DFC, I am truly pleased that the Danida Fellows are appreciating their studies at and linkages with Danish research institutions and researchers. This shows that our common efforts at the Danish research institutions and at DFC in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (and with funding from the Danish tax-payers) are helping provide a good foundation for international scientific work now and in the future.

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