Les réalités de l'administration de la recherche dans les Caraïbes/Jamaïque: Aperçu de la conférence ACAAR Centrale 2021

Dr Debbie Devonish - Director, Centre for Science-based Research, Entrepreneurship & Continuing Studies, Jamaica


   

Picking up the pieces" was the initial title proposed for this article, however it is not taken frivolously, because it invokes much thought for introspection.  The inherent perceptions of the state of affairs of research administration, by those not familiar with what exists in the Caribbean, may not allow us to conceive requisite interventions.  At the heart of research output, is research capacity and research funding even though intricately hinged heron, is innately competitive.  The inequity is such that, research funding is like a race between a differently-abled (Jamaica/Caribbean) and the Usain Bolt (Developed Nations). How do we satisfactorily unearth the challenges, and increase mutual awareness, for better comprehending the path for involvement and progression? How do we do this whilst ensuring not to be the bearers of repetitive chatter and cynicism of possible solutions?  Are we required to pick up the pieces or are we called to identify the pockets of excellence in the Caribbean and realign all collective efforts with fervor, direction and renewed insight?

The CARA Ontario virtual conference of December 10, 2021, hosted a session facilitated by Dr Frances Chandler, and Mickel Allen, titled: The Research Administration in The Caribbean: Challenges and Opportunities. This was the first time the Caribbean was included, particularly Jamaica in its proceedings.  The lasting impact must be sought for transformational change from its proceedings.  The leadership's action to ensure that research administration in institutions guides best practices and improved researcher capacity is paramount to growth and development.  This can only transcend into better outcomes for the universal achievement of sustainable goals (UN Sustainable Goals).  Research is the heart of development because data-driven policies are what propel forward mobility.

The session featured Dr Julie-Ann Grant  & Dr Debbie Emamdie (University of the West Indies, Mona) and Dr Paul W. Ivey and myself, Dr Debbie Devonish (University of Technology, Jamaica).  The presenters from both universities articulated the research funding, management, research impact and an overview of institutional perspectives.  However, how do we spell out the differences between what obtains in the Caribbean and other CARA member institutions? I will attempt to give insights into the challenges and opportunities as it relates to Research Administration, giving a few directed examples, so that the perspectives may be further deliberated by all.

Important Factors

Comments for Further Discussion

Drivers of Research

  • Postgraduate support
  • Seed grant for initiating research for staff and students

As a graduate student at UWI, Mona, I had access to grant funding and scholarships for pursuing postgraduate research.  In 2021, the possibilities are now limited, at any Jamaican tertiary institution.   Postgraduate students are expected to stand their educational costs, add to the university’s operational budget and thus the enrolment numbers have plummeted. 

Neither staff nor students have ready, indispensable access to start-up research funding.  Enough is not available to facilitate the initiation of a question for future data development.

International Funding

  • Geographical competitiveness
  • Funding for Citizens
  • Competitive Gaps
  •  

Available funding dictates the type of research to be undertaken and the areas supported are often not relevant to the socio-economical or cultural context of the Caribbean.

The international funds are often named for Latin America and the Caribbean.  Latin America is large and the support and technical machinery to mobilize research activity is noted. The share population size and diversity invokes rich data for research and proliferation of research output.

Speaking with Dr Francis, a research Fellow (UTech, Ja/UWI, Mona), she shared her experience:

I was at a conference in the USA, reading a notice board and noting information about a grant when someone, a US military scientist, who had seen my work before and knew that I was from Jamaica, approached me and said, “don’t bother to apply, I know that you do not have the support and I am going to Puerto Rico to assist a team in applying for the grant.”

Though members of international professional organizations, Caribbean nationals are often ineligible for accessing similar grant funding as citizens of host country.  Collaboration does not allow funding to be utilised outside of host country and so the Caribbean researcher is still left out. 

With limited mentoring, or limited opportunities, those academics not involved in meaningful collaborative research, or have not travelled abroad to work our study will undoubtedly have less exposure and exhibit less competitive resumes compared to their international counterparts.

Lack of Research Administration Professionals

  • Professional Development

  • Framework for research importance

(See UTech, Jamaica’s research ecosystem

https://www.utech.edu.jm/publications/rtid2018/10/#zoom=z)

Tertiary educators are of diverse backgrounds, working many roles and operationalizing research management for themselves and their units. I consider myself, have no formal training in research administration as many other colleagues working in the capacity. However, over a period, academics across the nation’s universities adapted and would have mastered how to access funding; doing so consistently from local and international agencies successfully, establishing national impact. 

Research Management is isolated and is operated meagerly. Talking with the Ministry of Education Representative, it was perceived that collectively we do not know the funding agencies, their interests, their preferred styles or project emphasis.  The time has not been dedicated to understanding research administration on a wide scale. It was also noted that there are restrictive overheads for us, and the funding amounts pale in comparison to that made available to our international counterparts.  When there are project opportunities, the number of projects are often singular and minimal.  For example, the UNESCO Participation Programme Funding has been reduced from seven to two projects.  The need to account for the scarce, precious research funding now becomes onerous and beauacratic within our institutions that processes seem painstakingly prohibitive.

I would say, there are so many skills to be honed and as an advocate for professional development for educators, we cannot overlook the importance of a learning community to improve professional growth.  Thanks to the CARA community for an open invitation.

Collaboration

  • Postgraduate projects
  • Existing and New Memorandum of Understanding

There have been many MPhil, PHD and academic projects completed with success through collaboration.  A portion of my own MPhil study at the UWI two decades ago was through international collaboration. Recently completed projects 2020-2021 from UTECH are via national (UTECH-UWI) and international collaborations as well, where resources are leveraged for mutual benefits.

Unfortunately, there have been instances where international researchers have sought collaboration but it has emerged as predatory relationships.

Perhaps there could be a collaborative plan-The CARA Caribbean- CARA-B Networking Initiative', to highlight specific objectives through several collaborative research projects with Jamaican Universities, to enhance research administration for capacity building towards extended Caribbean development.