Past and current efforts being made by developed western countries to support the development drives of Africa and other resource-constrained countries includes academic scholarships. This primarily involves admitting students from the developing countries into Western universities to train in academic research using the sophistications and state-of-the-art technologies and environment available. At the end of training, many of these students often end up staying back in their countries of research studies. Those that would return to their countries of origin, often intimidated by the sophistication of their countries of training, are unable to continue with qualitative research due to the absence of a similar research environment they have been trained with. These once productive and budding research academics soon get neutralised and diffused into their countries’ nominal research setting, becoming highly unproductive and inactive.
The fact is that it will normally take exceptional quality for these returning students, being employed by the local superiors, to translate the elements of their sophisticated training in a technological backward setting. The overall result is a situation where huge sums of money is spent by the developing countries and their international funders in research training but little progress being made towards technological independence of these countries. This skill-transfer model is expensive and impacts on only very few set of individual foreign students per unit time. We think that this model is becoming obsolete. Hence, if rapid technological growth is desired of these countries, then a new radical model must evolve.
At the Department of Bioengineering of Imperial College London, we are trying a new model that would reverse the trend that moves young people from the developing countries to our sophisticated technological environment and highly advanced research. This could be a model where our research is rather moved to meet the people in their own environment, challenging them to push the boundaries of their technological needs using materials that are local to them. In this model, the students’ course work in preparation for research takes place within Imperial setting to maintain our teaching standards. However, the research challenge and projects are derived from contemporary needs local to the environments of student’s origin. Volunteering researchers take up local research challenges to be implemented using local contents. As many research students as possible would be tasked on a number of related aspects of the projects, being supervised by the Principal visiting (PVR) researcher. This creates opportunity for relatively more students to come in contact with the PVR, learning how their locally available materials can be investigated to develop a technological solution. Imperial researchers could be awarded fixed term grants for multiple number students from the same region to set the motion in tackling local needs. Upon graduation from research degrees, the students could be retained in the project within their own country or region to progress on their research dissertations, either within the academia or industry.